Music for Monkeys

music for monkeys

They gave up trying to teach a monkey to type the next Shakespeare play. But since music supposedly calms the savage, they taught him to play a tiny guitar instead. It made sense after all – he could play tunes to calm himself down, rather than a researcher having to do it. Once he had access to the guitar and finally understood that it was for making music and not for hitting people or other monkeys over the head, he calmed down dramatically. Just being able to express himself had the desired effect.

They’d tried to teach Abe how to sign but he wasn’t having it. It didn’t make sense to him – this gesture meant what? It was too abstract for him. Why make a sign with his hand, when he could grunt or scream at them? They eventually figured out what he wanted. Meanwhile, he enjoyed screaming. It was fun and made his keepers (his jailers) so anxious. It was funny to watch, to see how he could make them so upset and nervous.

But then they brought the guitar to him. The jailer played it at first and the tones were different, weren’t like their voices. The jailer even sang – and his voice was different, was kinder. If only they could always speak to him like that!

Abe thought  that maybe they could learn how to talk with music, so these dimwits could finally get him what he wanted faster. The amusement of their confusion was wearing off. He wanted to deal with them as little as possible. Even fighting was getting old.

Finally, after nearly a year of practice, he was ready for his first public performance. He was no longer in his cage – the audience would be shocked to think of how he been imprisoned. Most thought of it as a zoo, and either forgot or overlooked the fact that he didn’t choose to be there. He wasn’t asked when he was taken from his home. It wasn’t voluntary. He didn’t want to be an example of his kind.

Many thought of the zoo as an educational opportunity, a chance for people to learn about animals in a safe and clean environment. They also thought they were doing the animals a favor. The same “safe and clean environment” was so much better than a wilderness home, the people told themselves. They pointed out how the animals lived so much longer in captivity. They didn’t understand that quantity wasn’t the same as quality. Longer wasn’t necessarily better.

Abe was supposed to play a nursery song, one that was easy and would show off his talents. Nothing too complicated or he’d fumble and the audience would stare or laugh. It was important to get this right.

The audience wasn’t just any old audience. They were benefactors, donors, patrons of the arts. It was their generosity that made the “Music for Monkeys” program possible. If this failed, the whole program would end. It was all riding on Abe, but he had not been told this.

Yet he played better than expected, and more. He played flawlessly, with real feeling, for the first 20 minutes. Perhaps something took over then, some deep down part of him, because that feeling came up and out and over and suddenly he was playing a new song, a sad song. A song sadder than standing on the platform as the last train leaves for the evening. A song sadder than the end of summer break. A song so sad that the audience caught the feeling tied up inside it without words, and they understood the pain of imprisonment in the name of “education” or “rescue”. They heard within the notes his longing for a home he would never see again, a family he would never again embrace. It didn’t matter if they might no longer be alive because of disease or poachers. They had lived as monkeys, not as exhibits, as specimens, as one-off examples of their kind, meant to be on display to any and all, young and old, as the epitome of “monkey” to these rubes, these ticket holding members of this permanent circus that is a zoo (sometimes euphemistically termed a “wildlife park” for much the same reason cemeteries are now memorial gardens).

The audience felt through Abe’s new music the joy of waking up with the sunrise, embraced by the arms of a tree, with leaves as a blanket. It felt the joy of wandering every day to see new places and other animals, every night a new bed in a new tree. Every day was the first day for Abe’s kind – a new adventure and excuse to discover. No worries about a car or mortgage or clothes, so no worries about a job or reputation either.

The people thought they were safe because of all they owned but now they understood that it owned them. They had become chained themselves, slowly, but surely. They had put themselves into a zoo of their own making. They had forgotten their own wildness, their own true nature, in their striving to be civilized. Abe, with his monkey music, reminded them of who they really were, and who they could become again.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. When the music finally stopped, when the guitar strings stilled, they all sat in silence for what seemed like forever. Finally a child spoke, and asked Abe what his real name was, the one before his capture. What was the sound his family, blood and otherwise, called him? And he didn’t know. It was lost to him, trained out of him for so many years. So the child gave him a new name, a snippet of that song that awoke them all, as a reminder of who he truly was.

Advertisements

New Sabbath

“Hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God is one.” The Shema.

The goal is oneness of people, of union, reunion, communion, with God.

The hope is for Sabbath every day, the Sabbath without end. This is a sign that the Messiah has come.

Jesus acted like the Sabbath was every day. He worked on the Sabbath, yet took time to rest whenever he could -on a boat, on mountain tops, in lonely and deserted places.

Perhaps that is the answer. Once we start living as if the Messiah has come we will experience our own personal transformation. Once we live this way, we are freed from the old ways of living.

When we don’t, it is as if we are keeping ourselves in exile, wandering through our own personal deserts for far more than 40 years – for our entire lifetimes.

Sometimes birds have been in cages so long they won’t leave, even when the door is left open. Sometimes we are the same – stuck in old ways, so even when we are told we are free we won’t change.

Jesus frees us. Jesus says we are forgiven and loved. He’s unlocked that cage. Now you have to walk out.

So now, act as if every day is the Sabbath. This doesn’t mean do nothing. Your work is your way of serving God. You serve God through your work. But praise God, delight in God’s creation, and rest, knowing that you don’t have to do anything to get God’s favor, because you already have it.

Manna. One day at a time with God.

I used to be really worried about money. It seemed as soon as I got a bonus or had an unexpected windfall of money, a huge expense would come up. I was never able to add to our savings. Sure, I’ve got some money there, but not enough to feel safe about. I don’t want to live hand-to-mouth. My parents did that and it wasn’t pretty. In a way it is a mercy that they died young because they certainly didn’t have any money set aside for when they got older.

Then I heard about manna as a test. Remember manna? It was what the Jews ate in the desert for forty years. They walked in the hot sun, with no homes, with no real possessions. They had no idea where they were going other than where God was leading them. Every day was difficult – but every day they had food in the form of manna.

It wasn’t that great, but it got them through. Every now and then some of them would complain and ask for something else, but it always made them sick. Manna was exactly what they needed. It was boring, sure, but it kept them strong enough to get through that ordeal and make it to their new home.

God knew what they needed and provided it. What they wanted wasn’t good for them. Isn’t this always the way? We think we know better than God, and when we get what we ask for, it just gets in our way.

Here’s the really interesting thing about manna. It was one day at a time. Every day of the week, except Saturday, they would get manna. It was just enough for that day and no more. Every day they had to trust that food would come to them. They couldn’t save up.

Saturday was different. Being the Sabbath, it was a day of rest. The only exception to the pattern was on Fridays, where they would get a double portion of manna so they didn’t have to work to gather it up on the Sabbath.

God gave manna not just to feed them, but as a test. It was to see if they trusted that God would provide for them. It was a test to see if they would submit to God’s commandments and be God’s people.

The same thing can be said about money. God knows what we need.

Here are the Bible verses in question (all are NIV) —–

Exodus 16:1-5

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

Deut. 8:1-5

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Deut. 8:16

16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

The Burning Bush

Let’s look at the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Exodus 3:1-10

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7 And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
(American Standard Version)

Notice that Moses was simply walking along. This amazing sight just happened, unexpectedly. Notice that God only started speaking to Moses when he turned aside to look at it. From that encounter, Moses is called to lead Israel out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

How many burning bushes are in your life? How many places where God is are you ignoring? We have to stop and slow down and take time to notice where God is breaking through into this world. We have to make space and time for God, otherwise we’ll miss our call. Is God in the sound of the siren of the firetruck racing by? Is God in the cry of the small child wanting to be held? Is God the still small voice in the storm? God is in all of that and much more. There are many amazing things small and large that happen all around us all the time. It is only when we turn aside and give attention to them that God will then speak to us.

God doesn’t always appear to us as an angel. Sometimes God comes in dreams. Sometimes God appears as three strangers such as happened with Abraham in Genesis 18.

We have to slow down and treat everyone as if they might be an angel in disguise. In Greece, they always make sure to have sweets available because they don’t know if the person who shows up at their door is God. I’m not saying that everyone is holy. But I am saying that everyone has the possibility of having God within them. And I’m saying that our world would be a nicer place if we treated every single person with that level of love and attention.

God is always willing to reach to us and talk to us. We just have to stop and take the time to notice. Imagine what would’ve happened if Moses had not taken the time to stop and slow down. The Israelites would still be stuck in slavery. God called Moses from the burning bush to set people free. It was only when he turned aside that God spoke. He could have kept on walking. How many times do we keep on walking?

How many other releases from slavery are we missing out on because we don’t believe that we are being called by God? Notice that God didn’t free the Israelites on his own. He required Moses. He required Moses’ full participation. God uses all of us like that.

Is God calling you? Do you think you’re not special enough? Moses wasn’t special. He was an average person at an average time and in an average place before God called him. He became special because he said Yes to God. It was only after he said Yes and he started working with God that he became special.

You’re being called right now from the burning bush. Stop. Turn aside. Pay attention. God is calling you to free people from the slavery of guilt and shame and from playing small. God is calling you from within the slavery of fear and doubt and addictions. God is calling you.

Say Yes.

Just like Moses, you can do it, with God’s help.

Together, you can lead people out of pain and into life.

Immigrant / Refugee

These words are on the Statue of Liberty –
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But they don’t mean anything anymore. They sound good, but we as Americans don’t really mean them. We like to think we do, but our actions and policies say otherwise.

Remember when “immigrant” wasn’t a dirty word? Now, with the large group of Mexican children at America’s border, the word has shifted from “immigrant” to “refugee”.

That is what they are. That is what they have always been. They are looking for a better life. They can’t make it there, so they are trying to make it here.

This has always been a nation of immigrants.

The Puritans, seeking religious freedom.

The Irish, escaping famine.

The Chinese, in search of jobs where they can earn a living wage.

Layer upon layer, they come and add to the flavor of this country. This country is made up of mutts.

But Americans are scared. They don’t want “them” to take away their jobs or use up their resources. Public education and healthcare isn’t free – they are supported with tax dollars. If you are illegally here, you aren’t paying taxes. You are using resources that you haven’t paid for.

And then we gripe about having to change our signs and paperwork to be in English and in Spanish. That costs money too, money we don’t have.

We may say that America is the richest country, but we are in debt up to our ears. We don’t have the resources to take care of ourselves, much less everybody else. We don’t have room, or time, or much of anything else left over.

But what we do have is more than what they have.

Mexicans are fleeing drug cartels and police on the take. They are fleeing crushing poverty and illiteracy. They are fleeing lives where the only thing to look forward to is death.

For years they were referred to as “illegal immigrants” – but now with this huge group of Mexican children at the border, the term has shifted to “refugee” to garner sympathy.

So what do we do? Take them in? Adopt them out? Put them in foster care? Who is going to tend these children? Where is the money going to come from?

Should we make every Mexican in this country “legal” – drop all immigration limits and expect everybody to work and pay taxes and learn the language? Make a rule that if you want to come here, you have to pull your weight just like everybody else?

We all have to be on the same page.

We aren’t united. We are rather divided. And we are falling. We have a chance here, a choice. We have a chance to be “A Christian nation” like we like to think we are, and welcome in the stranger and treat our neighbor with the same kindness we wanted.

But how? With what money? We had to shut down the federal government for weeks last year due to no money.

We say we want to do the right thing, but when push comes to shove, we’d rather do what hurts less.

Spiritual director – probation officer

Sometimes I feel like my spiritual director is my probation officer. I have to check on with her every month to see how I’m doing. That makes it sound like I don’t know how I’m doing, or like I’m going to the doctor for a checkup. It is kind of both.

A spiritual director is kind of like a guru. Their goal is “intimacy with God”, and while that is pretty nebulous, it is a good goal. If any minister I’d ever had over me talked like she did, I’d still be in church. But sometimes it is really hard work. It is one on one, for an hour. It is really intense.

I feel awkward going. She cuts right through the muck, like a laser. She sees through my veils and obstacles that I put up, voluntarily and involuntarily.

Sometimes I hide. There are some things that I know we disagree on, like salvation. I don’t feel that Jesus came to save us. I feel that Jesus came to tell us that we aren’t broken and don’t need to be saved. There is a huge difference here. I know that I differ from mainline Christianity in this. I also know that I’m in alignment with the words of Jesus in my belief. So I keep on saying it in my blog. She and I, however, we butt heads over it. She says we are broken. I say that Jesus says we are as good as we are going to be and that is good enough.

I also feel that she’s holding back in telling me things. I’m the kind of person who needs explicit instructions, and I feel that she’s the kind of person who wants me to figure it out on my own. Perhaps she feels that if she tells me something that I should be experiencing, that I’ll fake it. Kind of like how if you read about a particular disease, you might feel like you have the symptoms and you don’t. Or like if you explain something a certain way, it will frame that experience for that person. I feel she wants me to have my own experiences.

I dread going almost every month, but this month is worse. After going, I immediately want to go again. Then a month later when it is time to go, I don’t want to at all. I think I don’t know what to talk about. I think that whatever I’ve experienced isn’t enough. I’m pretty sure I’m doing it all wrong.

Am I cheating, by wanting to skip? Am I falling to the wayside, or am I on the right path?

I’d like to work on the manuscript for my book. I’d like to catch up on sleep. I’d like to paint. Wednesday mornings are nice – I don’t have to go in to work until the afternoon. If I go visit her, I lose a lot of that time. It is only once a month, though.

Sometimes rules help, sometimes they hurt. What rule am I following here? Go once a month regardless? Do it automatically? Or feel it out? Discipline is the root of “disciple” after all.

Part of it is realizing that she works for me, not the other way around. I pay her for her services. It is like using a personal trainer, but for your soul. It is really weird and really awesome.

This month I decided to cancel. And I’m glad I did. I feel that if it is a choice, it is easier. God loves a cheerful giver, after all. If I go because I feel I have to go, then I’m missing the point. But then I also know that if I slack off too much I’ll get out of line/habit/practice. Order is important to me.

It is all a balancing act. Order / freedom. I chose order, of my free will. But too much order starts to feel stifling.

Poem – cut loose

This is a day of culling.
This is a day of cutting loose
and letting go.

No longer time to sow
or reap.

There is no harvest here.
Not yet.

This is a time to prune,
to trim,
to weed.

But not gently.

This is a time of slash and burn,
of cut and run.

This is a time of throwing off the rope
and sailing away.
No map, no rudder, no charts.

Just go.

Like a laser
Like a diamond
Like a scalpel

Cut loose.

No time for maybe
or might have been.

Cut loose.

This is the day not for new beginnings
or happy endings
but something in the middle.

We aren’t used to middles.
We are uncomfortable with
not being
here
or there.

But that is where we are.
The grey time
the afternoon place
the doldrums,

Better accept it.
The sooner the better.

Cut bait now
with a sharp knife and paddle on over
to another spot
because
now
that line is holding you down.

No matter if the biggest fish
you ever saw is about to grab hold.
No matter.

He hasn’t yet
and if he does now
he’ll just pull you under
or drag you along
to your death.

Cut loose
and live.