Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Visit from the Spirit of Christmas Past

Sorry I've been away for a couple of weeks. Out-of-state visitors, holiday events, and numerous choir rehearsals have kept me more than busy. Here is a new Spirit Spot blog I just wrote for


I try to avoid the secular trappings of Christmas. During December I prefer to focus on Advent, praying the poetry of Isaiah and Zephaniah, marveling at the message of John the Baptist, and singing the gorgeous Advent music. But “secular Xmas,” as I like to call it, is so overwhelmingly pervasive, hitting us like a sledgehammer on TV commercials, in newspaper ads, and at the shopping mall. I avoid getting a Christmas tree until December 24, and then I leave the decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord in January. Despite my best Advent intentions, I still have Christmas parties to attend, gift shopping to do, and Christmas music to rehearse with my choirs.

My friends think I’m weird and don’t understand my Christmas hesitancy. “Bah, humbug” is indeed a tempting response. It’s easy to be cynical.

So there I was, alone in my seasonal tug-of-war at the local grocery store, which just happened to be hosting a “Breakfast with Santa” event that morning for children. I balked. No way was I going to walk in on yet another “secular Xmas” happening. But I really needed eggs and bread so into the store I went. I was immediately charmed. . .

Click here to continue reading on

Friday, December 4, 2009

Alternative Christmas Giving

So let me get this straight. During the month of December we rush around in frenzied shopping sprees at crowded malls to buy gifts for our loved ones with money that we don’t have. Meanwhile, our loved ones are doing the same. Then, on Christmas morning, we give these carefully selected treasures to these loved ones who, in turn, gift us with their treasures. As presents are opened we get to practice our well-honed acting chops:

(Gasp) “Honey, you shouldn’t have!” (Translation: Really, you shouldn’t have.)

“How did you know?” (Translation: I didn’t know I wanted this either.)

“Just what I always wanted!” (Translation: NOT!)

Kisses and hugs are exchanged as holiday cheer ensues. Several hours later, we are home alone with our newly acquired pile of gifts, trying to figure out what the heck we will do with all this stuff. More than likely, our loved ones are thinking the exact same thing as they stare at their presents. Then, in January, the credit card bills arrive. Pass the aspirin, if you can afford it.

There's so much stuff from Christmas that gets accumulated and crammed into closets, so much money spent, so much debt incurred, and so many feelings hurt or disappointed. In response, there is great temptation to become like Scrooge and just say, “Bah! Humbug!”

Okay, maybe I’m being a tad cynical, and I apologize. Certainly, the idea behind our seasonal gift exchange is beautiful, but the commercialism that surrounds it leaves at least this blogger with a bad taste of rancid eggnog in his mouth. Is there a better way?

I think it helps to remember that Christmas is Jesus' birthday. What present am I giving to Jesus on this day? Isn't that what the whole gift exchange idea is about? Is there some way I can honor Jesus, express my love for my family and friends, cut down on consumerism, and help those less fortunate who are so close to Jesus' heart? All at the same time? The answer is a huge resounding "Yes!"

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of "alternative giving." The concept is simple. Instead of stressing out at the mall or spending oodles of money on postage trying to beat the mailing deadline for your present, you simply give a monetary donation to a worthy cause in the name of the person you are gifting. Give your loved one a card expressing that a donation was made in his/her honor. The organization to which you are donating often has gift cards ready-made that you can use for this very occasion.

The friends that I have gifted in this way are often overwhelmed by the sheer simplicity of this concept. It's so easy and beautiful, and so giving. In the process, Jesus is honored by your remembering those in need.

Here are a few website links to get you started in exploring the wonderful concept of alternative giving. Do a Google search and you will find several more. And don't forget your local food bank or soup kitchen, or the Salvation Army.

Mercy Corps: Mercy Corps exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.

UNICEF: UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. We believe that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress.

CARE: CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. We place special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty.

Heifer International: Exciting concept! Choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant.

Catholic Charities USA: Working to reduce poverty in America

Food for the Poor: Food For The Poor is the number one international relief and development charity in the United States, feeding 2 million poor everyday.

So Merry Christmas! And God bless us, everyone!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Get the Door!

Note: I have used this old story for years in various ministerial settings. I last posted it in my old artist blog page on

Advent! What are we waiting for? For whom do we wait?


There once was a man named Charles who received a very special telephone call.

“Hello!” said Charles.

“Hello, my son,” said a warm and compelling voice on the other side.

“Who is this?” Charles asked.


“Jesus. Yeah, right,” said Charles, skeptically. “Prove it.”

And, as he had done long ago with the Samaritan woman, Jesus proceeded to tell the man everything he had ever done. Convinced, Charles was beside himself in awe.

“My Lord! To what do I owe the honor of this phone call?”

“My son, I want to visit you today.”

“You want to visit me? Really?” Charles became very excited. “How about tonight for dinner?”

“I cannot tell you the exact hour,” said Jesus, “but yes, tonight for dinner would be fine.”

“Great! Do you need directions?” Charles immediately felt foolish. “Oh, sorry, Lord. I’m sure you already know where I live. See you tonight.”

“Blessings, my son.”

And with that, Charles hung up the phone. Jesus was coming to visit him for dinner! He then looked around his modest home in horror. The place was a mess and there was nothing in the fridge. There was so much to do! It was already 1:00 in the afternoon. He barely had enough time to clean up, go shopping, and cook.

Jesus was coming! Charles gathered the newspapers and magazines that were lying all over the house and finally put them in recycling. He threw his dirty clothes in the washing machine and started vacuuming and dusting. He placed the finest linen on the table and set out his best china.

Jesus was coming! The grocery store was overcrowded and Charles was getting impatient while waiting in the checkout line. He had already decided that Jesus might enjoy a tasty lamb stew with potatoes and an assortment of vegetables. He also took care to choose the best bread and wine he could find.

Jesus was coming! Charles was ready to burst and tell everyone in the market who his guest would be for dinner, but then he thought, “No, I better not. I want Jesus all to myself.”

Jesus was coming! Nothing was too good for his Lord! The lamb stew was simmering slowly and Charles was rolling the dough for an apple pie when he heard a knock on the door. “Who could that be?” Charles thought as he looked at his watch, annoyed. When he opened the door he was aghast to find a homeless man at his doorstep, wearing tattered clothing and looking quite unkempt.

“Please sir,” said the homeless man. “I have not eaten in several days and I smelled the delicious cooking from your kitchen. May I trouble you for something to eat?”

Charles could not believe the nerve of this total stranger coming to his door and asking for food! “I’m sorry, but I’m a little busy right now. I have in important guest coming for dinner tonight. Why don’t you go over to the mission downtown? They’ll have something for you.” And before the homeless man could even respond, Charles closed the door on him. It was almost four o’clock.

Jesus was coming! Everything was cooking and baking and now Charles was ironing his best shirt when he heard another knock on the door. “Now what?” he thought as he looked at his watch, annoyed. When he opened the door he was surprised to find a little girl who must have been four or five years old. She looked like she was going to cry.

“Please, mister,” said the little girl as she clutched a tiny doll. “I’m lost. I can’t find my house or my mommy.”

Charles sighed deeply. Why was this happening to him? He wasn’t comfortable around children and he didn’t know what to do. “Look,” said Charles to the girl. “I don’t know how I can help you. Why don’t you go next door and ask them?” And the little girl walked away crying as Charles closed the door on her. I was almost five o’clock.

Jesus was coming! Everything was now in place. The table was set, the delicious food was on the table in covered warmers, the candles were lit and the wine was uncorked. It was six o’clock and Charles was ready for a wonderful dinner with his Lord. Then he heard a knock on the door. He practically ran over to greet Jesus and was shocked to find that his brother was on his doorstep! His brother with whom he had not spoken for over fifteen years!

“You!” said Charles, angrily. “I told you I never want to see you again for as long as I live!” And he slammed the door in his brother’s face!

The evening went on as Charles waited for Jesus. Six o’clock passed. Seven o’clock passed. The candles were melting down and the food was getting cold. Eight o’clock passed, as did nine o’clock. Charles couldn’t believe it. After all his trouble to get ready, Jesus had stood him up. Finally, at ten o’clock, the phone rang.

“My son,” said the warm and compelling voice on the other end.

“Oh, Jesus!” said Charles with a hurt tone. “Where have you been? I spent all day getting ready for your visit. I set out the finest meal for you. And you didn’t even have the decency to show up!”

“My son,” said Jesus. “I did visit you, three times! But you never opened the door.”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent: Antidote for Xmas

We can’t avoid it. Christmastime is here! I struggle with the secular celebration of Xmas every year and have to work really hard not to become depressed by it. During this month of December I am going to reprint some Advent Spirit Spots that I wrote for I hope to also write some new reflections for this year. This first one appeared in 2007.

= = =

First of all, my apologies for using "Xmas,” but the rudely abbreviated word perfectly describes the secularization of our sacred holy day. "Christmas" is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. "Xmas" is the commercialized secular shopping season that roughly begins in mid-October when the department stores start putting Santa and snowmen on the shelves alongside the jack-o-lanterns and witches.

Xmas doesn't let up. It is directly aimed at our pocketbooks and not at our hearts, despite the treacly sentimentality of cloying holiday songs and animated TV specials that push all the right emotional buttons. And don't get me started on the plethora of heavy-handed toy commercials that are cleverly designed to elicit pangs of consumerist desire in toddlers too young to understand why the nation's economy depends on a successful holiday shopping season. Black Friday, my rash!

Is it any wonder that Ebeneezer Scrooge was so grouchy at this time of year? If this is all Xmas is about — Bah! Humbug, indeed!

There is an antidote to the overbloat of Xmas. It's called Advent, surely the most underappreciated of the liturgical seasons. It has to compete with Xmas, after all. But that's precisely why I love Advent, which is so deliberately counter-cultural.

Had your fill of shopping malls, traffic stalls, and consumer frenzy? Come to church during Advent and, during this Year C, be inspired by the prophets Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Micah. Savor their poetic imagery:

In those days, I will raise up for David a just shoot . . . (Jeremiah)

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever . . . (Baruch)

Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior . . . (Zephaniah)

He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock, . . . for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth. He shall be peace. (Micah)

Losing your sense of balance with all the holiday things-to-do? Come to Advent liturgy and heed John the Baptist's cry:

I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire . . .

Are the dazzling Christmas lights of your neighborhood giving you headaches? Come to liturgy on Sunday and feast on the simplicity of the four candles of the Advent wreath.

Can't stand another chorus of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" Come to Mass during Advent and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a reassuring name that means "God is with us."

Looking for real joy, unfettered by the false joys of consumerism and excess? Hear the gospel on the 4th Sunday of Advent and marvel at the power of God at work in those who have faith:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . . Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

So, let's not allow Xmas get to us this year. Come, celebrate Advent with your Christian community. Let us truly prepare the way of the Lord not by our shopping and our holiday stress, but simply by preparing our hearts.

Click here to read my original Spirit Spot that was written to reflect Liturgical Year A.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

Stress, reluctant encounters, unresolved issues, and guilt-induced motivations — no, this isn't the annual therapists convention. I'm talking about the holidays.

Please don't get me wrong. Thanksgiving and Christmas are surely joyful occasions. The Keeper of Holidays couldn't do better than to schedule the one-two punch of a blessed harvest festival just one month before the celebration of the birth of Christ — as well as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, solstice, and other winter commemorations. And the proximity of two major holidays helps solve the problem of how to fairly divide holiday time between two sets of in-laws.

But whereas the winter holidays seem ideally suited for the smaller nuclear family unit, holiday stress seems to grow exponentially as children become adults and start their own families, transforming holiday celebrations into extended family reunions.

I remember a classic Thanksgiving episode of the 1990s television sitcom, Rosanne. Rosanne's parents and her husband Dan's parents are crammed into the Connor family's already tight dining area with their three children, Rosanne's sister Jackie, and some assorted cousins. Rosanne's mom still has issues with her daughters and complains loudly about them in the presence of Dan's mom, who can't stand her in-law counterpart. Meanwhile, Dan still has unresolved issues with his dad. Old arguments get revisted. Insults fly. Feelings get hurt. Then Rosanne, who has been busy with the details of cooking, tosses the turkey platter on the table with a loud bang and says acerbically, "Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!"

I think it was Charlie Brown who said to Linus: "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives."

Unfortunately, unresolved family issues have a way of bringing out the old sibling rivalries and parental resentments. Is it any wonder that the holidays are the most stressful time of year?

It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of waiting until the holidays to see your original family unit, how about maintaining contact with them throughout the year? Is there an unresolved issue with your sister? Visit her or call her in July and have a heart-to-heart conversation. Don't get along with your dad? Spend time with him during spring break. The point is to try and diffuse things before they come to a head during the winter holidays. Will forgiveness help? Ask for it or grant it.

Do not forget the power of prayer. Ask the Holy Family for a special blessing at this time. Pray to God for patience and strength. And, for heaven's sake, stay away from alcohol during family gatherings. Alcohol has a way of loosening tongues and inhibitions that can only make a bad situation worse.

Yes, these might be naive suggestions. That's the optimist in me. I realize that some family situations might be beyond repair. If so, God be with you. Let us pray for each other.


This blog is a partial reprint of Ken's Thanksgiving Spirit Spot of 2007. Click here to read the whole blog on

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Podcasts: Listening to Music on a Printed Book

Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution is a book about music, so it already has the inherent problem of all books in the genre of music history: One cannot “hear” the music just by reading about it on the printed page. This problem is enhanced for my book because I wrote about a body of music that is, for the most part, not performed or sung anymore. Additionally, although much of the music of the Folk Mass was recorded in the 1960s, most of those recordings are no longer around, and even if they can be found they are not in a convenient listening format.

Yes, those of the Boomer generation will certainly “hear” the referenced music in their heads. The very reason I chose the title Keep the Fire Burning was because it is a line from Ray Repp’s ubiquitous song, “Here We Are.” Boomer Catholics who were involved in their parish Folk Mass automatically “hear” the song’s next line when they see the book’s title:

Keep the fire burning,
kindle it with care,
and we’ll all join in and sing . . .

But what about younger readers, or people who wouldn’t touch a Folk Mass with a ten-foot collection basket?

When I started writing Keep the Fire Burning six years ago I wrestled early with this problem. I considered the idea of making a CD but, with multiple publishers and composers involved, the permissions process alone would have been prohibitive. I also thought about inserting the printed music in the book itself but only notation-reading musicians would be able to read that.

Meanwhile, as I continued my research and writing, I set about on the challenging search for the original Folk Mass records on eBay and other Internet LP sites. Yes, this meant I had to buy a turntable if I wanted to actually hear these historical tracks.

21st century technology eventually offered a solution in the form of the podcast, which really took off around 2005. With the right software and hardware, anybody can host their own radio show on the Internet. After digitizing the tracks of my Folk Mass records, it became a simple matter of presenting this music in an appealing and accessible podcast. Luckily, copyright laws allow me to freely podcast this music since most of it was released before February 1972, which is apparently a legal line of demarcation in the recording industry. I was also able to find public domain speeches of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pope John XXIII, and other historical figures, allowing me to place the music within the context of its times.

As websites became do-it-yourself affairs, that allowed me even greater freedom to post my Folk Mass podcasts on the Internet, first at The only thing left to do was to offer listeners the most convenient way to subscribe to my podcasts so they don’t have to wait for a file to download or be unaware of a new podcast’s release. I am happy to announce that the Keep the Fire Burning podcasts are now available for free in the following convenient formats:

I just posted the latest podcast about 1968, a pivotal year for a decade that brought about much upheaval in the world and in the Church. Future podcasts will focus on the later chapters of the book, including the music of John Fischer, Jack Miffleton, Carey Landry, and the Dameans. There will also be a sampling of Ray Repp’s final FEL album, The Time Has Not Come True, and Sebastian Temple’s rarely heard The Universe Is Singing, the composer’s fascinating treatment of the theology of Teilhard de Chardin. You won’t want to miss these.

After I complete the podcast for the final chapter, I plan to continue doing podcasts for special events, such as CJ McNaspy’s 1967 Carnegie Hall concerts of Folk Mass artists. I will also produce some podcasts that focus on particular composer albums that I didn’t have to time to do in the first round of podcasts. As they say in the business, thanks for listening, and stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twitter Updates from US Bishops Meeting: Deliberation on the Liturgy

The annual gathering of the United States Bishops is always newsworthy, attracting a sizeable segment of the Catholic and secular media. But this is the age of Twitter. Never before have the bishops’ deliberations been followed in such detail.

At this week’s Baltimore gathering, the bishops have been discussing the sanctity of marriage, medical ethics, pro-life concerns, the Campaign for Human Development, and other issues. As a Catholic composer, I have been most interested in their discussion on the liturgy. This week the bishops voted on the final piece of legislation on a decade-long dialogue between the American church and Rome on the English translation of the Roman Missal. If the bishops approve the proposed adaptation, it goes back to Rome for final promulgation.

In a nutshell, the current American translation of the Mass does not conform completely to the original Latin. This is epitomized by our use of “And also with you” as a response to the priest’s greeting of “The Lord be with you.” The proposed new translation – “And with your spirit” – conforms better to the original Latin, “Et cum spiritu tuo.”

Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, has been leading an eleventh-hour campaign to table the bishop’s approval because of concern for the “ungrammatical” elements of the new English translation.

Here are the “tweet” reports of today’s liturgy deliberations from Twitter, as posted on @usccbmedia. Despite the 140-character limitation of each tweet, one can easily envision how the drama unfolded. I will let these tweets speak for themselves and will comment on them in a future blog.*

usccbmedia: Deliberation on liturgy begins by addressing Trautman concern about antiphons.

usccbmedia: Trautman asserts that Rome is overstepping rights of the Conference to consider this part of the translation.

usccbmedia: Trautman moves to have graybook from ICEL on antiphons before recognitio be issued.

usccbmedia: Serratelli answers Trautman's charge. Paprocki is addressing the Code of Canon Law.

usccbmedia: Paprocki has taken the meeting into Latin.

usccbmedia: Paprocki says Trautman has raised a legitimate point. George says this question should be discussed later. Trautman says no.

usccbmedia: George urges that the bishops move on to the work before them. Trautman asks to speak again.

usccbmedia: Trautman notes that his motion is still alive. "Not to complicate matters further, but ..."

usccbmedia: Serratelli is introducing Proper of Saints, noting this is bishops' last chance for input.

usccbmedia: Passage of this, as other items, requires 2/3 vote of Latin-member bishops.

usccbmedia: Serratelli notes that a decade-long process is nearing an end.

usccbmedia: Bishop Sklba stands to note good work of Serratelli and committee, but flaws of translation.

usccbmedia: Sklba suggests that welcoming of traditional Anglicans will mean our translation is unfavorably compared to Book of Common Prayer.

usccbmedia: Niederauer notes that everyone can find something to dislike here. Blaire notes that other English-speaking countries have passed this.

usccbmedia: Bishops voting on Proper of Saints.

usccbmedia: 88% percent of bishops approve (195).

usccbmedia: Serratelli presents Roman Missal Supplement.

usccbmedia: There are no amendments to this document.

usccbmedia: Silva notes that saint whose feast is celebrated in Hawaii is eligible to be on national calendar.

usccbmedia: Serratelli and George say this can be considered under US Proper discussion.

usccbmedia: Serratelli presents translation of Commons.

usccbmedia: In arguing inclusion of Hawaiian saint, Silva notes several saints on calendar who lack the "national cultus" his saint presumably lacks.

usccbmedia: Bishop Rosazza notes that English-speaking bishops seem to be held to tighter translation than, say, the French.

usccbmedia: Bishop Trautman re-raises point about Rome stepping in on the antiphons. Serratelli asks that current text be addressed.

usccbmedia: Impromptu amendment on mentioning Native Americans accepted on the spot.

usccbmedia: US Propers goes up for vote. Bishops approve.

usccbmedia: US Adaptation of Roman Missal passed. Serratelli calls this historic moment. George quips, "Not yet."

usccbmedia: Serratelli: Perfection will come when liturgy on Earth gives way to worship of God in Heaven.

usccbmedia: Serratelli speaks on importance of catechesis on translation. Says time of implementation of translation will be determined by recognitio.

usccbmedia: George thanks head of ICEL for his work on the translation.

usccbmedia: George says Trautman issue will still be addressed, as Conference may have right to translate antiphons.

usccbmedia: Says USCCB could sue Congregation in Apostolic Signatura, or USCCB could say they approve Congregation's help with translation.

usccbmedia: Bishops take evening coffee break.

usccbmedia: Trautman makes motion on antiphons.

usccbmedia: Wuerl asks if body can simply approve antiphons based on what they've seen in order to get recognitio.

usccbmedia: Abp. Myers asks if another vote follows recognitio.

usccbmedia: Vigneron asks if Trautman's motion might be remanded to committee. Wants thoughtful review of appropriate people.

usccbmedia: Chaput wants opinion of canonist if bishops can vote to delegate to the Congregation on matter of antiphons.

usccbmedia: Conlon, Bruskewitz, Mahony, Listecki, Sample, others speak up.

usccbmedia: Pilarczyk offers to submit motion that work on antiphons be remanded to Rome.

usccbmedia: Trautman says bishops shouldn't get into habit of walking away from having their rights overstepped.

usccbmedia: Bishops voting on Trautman motion.

usccbmedia: Motion fails.

usccbmedia: Pilarczyk submits motion that antiphons be remanded to Rome. Bishops voting.

usccbmedia: Motion passes overwhelmingly.


For more detailed coverage go to the official United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fan page on Facebook.

* As far as I know, Twitter tweets are not copyrighted. This is implied by Twitter's allowance of RT or "retweet" for the continuous sharing of posted tweets.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2012: Relax! It’s Only a Movie

The 2012 movie, this past weekend’s box-office bonanza, has fueled interest in The End of the World. Yawn. Here we go again.

Every now and then, there is some kind of prediction or omen that the world is going to end, causing confusion and panic. Indeed, if you read Twitter and Facebook status updates, the new movie has triggered a whole new wave of speculation. The producers of the movie must shoulder a big share of the blame for this, although they must be loving the free publicity. Unfortunately, a lot of young people are buying into this.

[To promote the film 2012,] the [Columbia] studio launched a viral marketing website operated by the fictional Institute for Human Continuity, where filmgoers could register for a lottery number to be part of a small population that would be rescued from the global destruction. David Morrison of NASA has received over 1000 inquiries from people who thought the website was genuine and has condemned it, saying "I've even had cases of teenagers writing to me saying they are contemplating suicide because they don't want to see the world end. I think when you lie on the Internet and scare children in order to make a buck, that is ethically wrong."

This marketing is unconscionable if it is causing people to consider suicide. Folks, it’s only a movie! There have been End of the World predictions before, with each “doomsday” date passing without incident. To wit:

December 31, 1999: Countdown to the New Millennium --
That New Year’s Eve was certainly fun, but was it the End of the World just because of an arbitrary turn of the Western calendar? Oh, well. At least the bottled water industry and the disaster kit industry made a killing.

1988: Hal Lindsey, in his best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, predicted the Rapture would happen during this year. Former NASA engineer Edgar C. Whisenant pinned it down to between September 11 and Sept. 13. Nothing happened. Unbowed, Lindsey still predicted that these are the end times. Whisenant died in 2001.
(Okay, I admit this one has a lot of weird coincidences but 1988 passed and we’re still here.)

1919: Meteorologist Albert Porta predicted six planets would come together on December 19, creating a cataclysmic event that would explode the Earth.

1914: Jehovah's Witnesses said this was the doomsday year. When nothing happened, they followed by a series of later dates. In the 1990s, Jehovah's Witnesses quietly abandoned a prediction that people alive in 1914 would live to see the Second Coming of Christ.

May 19, 1910: Halley’s Comet was scheduled to brush the earth with its tail. Doomsday devotees were stirred up. The day passed with no apocalypse, but the night sky was sure pretty.

March 21, 1844: Baptist minister William Miller pinpointed this doomsday date and gathered followers to wait with him in prayer. The day came and went. Miller said, “I confess my error and acknowledge my disappointment.” The date was reset for October 21, 1844. Again, “doomsday” passed without incident. The followers went on to establish the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Need I go on? The Middle Ages were predicated on a popular belief in the imminent demise of the world. For centuries, the Book of Revelation has been misinterpreted as a predictor of the apocalypse. (Don’t get me started on that one.) Even the early Christians thought Christ’s second coming would be in their lifetime. Indeed, the author of the Gospel of Mark wrote his gospel to help his community deal with their persecution and the apparent delay in Christ’s coming.

As for the current 2012 craze:

The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of beliefs and proposals positing that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur in the year 2012. The forecast is based primarily on what is said to be the end-date of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which is presented as lasting 5,125 years and as terminating on December 21 or 23, 2012. Arguments supporting these scenarios are drawn from a mixture of archaeoastronomical speculation, alternative interpretations of mythology, numerological constructions, and alleged prophecies from extraterrestrial beings.

Mainstream Mayanist scholars argue that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. To the modern Maya, 2012 is largely irrelevant, and classic Maya sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean.

I’m obviously a non-believer in Doomsday. Sorry, but I’m just too busy living. I believe that on the day we are born God gives each of us a clean slate to work with, and we need not fear man-made predictions of apocalypse and doom. The only thing we know for sure is that we will die; we can’t avoid that. So until that time, why not fill up our lives with love and laughter and peace while working to make this world a better place? With God’s grace, the future is bright and filled with hope.

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you,
says the Lord,
plans for your welfare, not for woe!
Plans to give you a future filled with hope.
- Jeremiah 29:11-13

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hear, O Lord, the Sound of My Call . . .

My book, Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution, is the story of a bygone era in the American Catholic Church. The 1960s was a decade characterized by radical change in just about every field, from politics and race relations to education, science, entertainment, art, morality, and organized religion. One can only guess what would have happened to the Church during this time of upheaval if Pope John XXIII had not convened the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Undoubtedly, Catholicism would have survived in some form regardless, as it has for two millennia. But would it have weathered the Sixties as well as it did without the Council?

I believe the Catholic Church not only survived the Sixties but thrived. Since the Protestant Reformation, the Church had been in an apologetic “fortress” mode as a response to the confusing atmosphere of the 1500s. This was entirely understandable. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) closed ranks, so to speak, to defend the Church against the challenge of Luther, Wesley, Zwingli, and other reformers, who were attracting former Catholics in droves.

But 400 years was a long time to keep the walls of that fortress up. In the 1960s there was a new challenge to morality and, because of the nuclear threat, to humanity’s very survival. Pope John was only reading the signs of the times when he called for a Council that would open up the fortress windows. The Church must be the light of Christ for all people of every faith and nation, and the Council would be a model of hope for a world that was starved for Good News.

This is the context in which I wrote my book. The sacred liturgy was one aspect of the Church that felt threatened by the Protestant reformers. In response, the Council of Trent froze the Mass. Faithful Catholics would know without a doubt that they had entered a Catholic church because of the silent celebration of the Latin Mass, as opposed to the participative services of the Protestant congregations.

Because of Vatican II, the Mass was translated into the language of the people, who were encouraged to participate in the liturgy in a way that, ironically, Martin Luther would have approved. That meant encouraging Catholics to find their voice in song. Because it was the 1960s, that meant folk music.

To be sure, much of the liturgical innovation in the American Catholic Church came about because of the tireless work of liturgists, musicians and publishers who seized the innovative spirit of Vatican II and took it in directions the Council Fathers never envisioned. For example, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy spoke highly of Gregorian chant as having “pride of place in liturgical services.” The pipe organ was to be “held in high esteem” because it “adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies” (Sacrosanctum Concilium Nos. 116 and 120). There was no mention of folk music and guitars as the norm for liturgical music. The document simply spoke of “other instruments” that may be used at Mass. American liturgical innovators took those two words and ran with it. The sound of strumming guitars captured the imagination and energy of young Catholics, and their participation in the Folk Mass got them involved in their Church.

In history, the pendulum swings from right to left and back again. With the support of Pope Benedict XVI, Catholics who treasure the traditional heritage of the Church are today enjoying a renaissance of appreciation for Gregorian chant. The songs of the Folk Mass are now long forgotten and often recalled with derision because of its simplicity. Of course, that was the very reason it caught on so quickly in the 1960s.

All this is a long way of saying that I was not prepared for the reaction that I have received at my book appearances for Keep the Fire Burning. Not surprisingly, my audience is comprised primarily of Baby Boomers – Catholics in their 50s and 60s who were children and teenagers in the post-Conciliar Church. These are people who grew up with the music of Ray Repp, Paul Quinlan, the Dameans, the Medical Mission Sisters, and Sebastian Temple, among many other Catholic folk music composers. In other words, this is music that is no longer sung or heard, since the original recordings have been lost in the dustbins of Catholic school libraries and shuttered parish convents.

I begin my events by talking about the Council and the transition from the Latin Mass to the English liturgy. But I cannot speak of the Folk Mass without also sharing its music. That means singing and, to set the scene, we begin with some secular folk music like Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” or Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” With guitar in hand, I notice a spark in the audience as they immediately connect with these songs. We then launch into Ray Repp’s “Here We Are,” which brings a lot of smiles and laughter. Yes, the song is very dated now, but we have to remember that Repp originally wrote the song for his 4th grade CCD class.

Interestingly, the singing of Repp’s “Hear, O Lord,” has become the emotional high point, when the tears of the audience just start flowing. With its simple four-chord structure and heartfelt lyrics, it is clear to me that “Hear, O Lord” still resonates with an age group that obviously identified with the song’s theme of loneliness and trust in God. I find the reaction to this song very touching, and I have to be composed so as not to cry myself.

These are songs that have not been sung publicly for almost forty years. They are the suppressed expression of a generation’s search for God, and that’s valid. Is it good liturgical music for today? I will let others answer that question. But in the singing of the Folk Mass songs, many Boomer Catholics are reliving a time when their youthful idealism pointed to a bright future of endless possibility. To that, I can only say, “Amen.”

  • To hear the music of the Ray Repp and other Folk Mass composers, go to the podcast page on Ken’s website.

  • Keep the Fire Burning is available on

  • To book Ken Canedo as a speaker, contact him here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Of My Hands I Give to You . . . the Lord’s Prayer

Because of the current flu epidemic, it looks like American Catholics are beginning to let go of the unofficial custom of holding hands during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at Mass. In many parishes, the H1N1 scare has also limited the Sign of Peace to a slight bow or a friendly wave, and communion under full cup has been temporarily discontinued. Given the severity of the epidemic, who can blame them? In my parish school alone, over 90 students stayed home sick from the flu last week.

Back to holding hands: No one really knows how that liturgical custom became so widespread in the United States, or when it began. I have a few theories that I would prefer to save for a book I am writing. But I will say that it most likely came about in the 1970s because of the concurrent popularity of the Folk Mass and the Charismatic Renewal, both of which epitomized the growing informality of the Church and of society in general.

“But we’ve been holding hands at the Our Father for as long as I can remember,” observes a thirtysomething friend of mine. “What do you mean when you say it’s an unofficial custom?”

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal does not mandate that Catholic worshipers hold hands at the Our Father. In fact, it says very little about that prayer except the following, as found in paragraph 152:

After the Eucharistic Prayer is concluded, the priest, with hands joined, says the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. With hands extended, he then says this prayer together with the people.

The Sacramentary itself only has these instructions:

The priest sets down the chalice and paten and with hands joined sings or says one of the following: (here follow a choice of four introductory exhortations)

He extends his hands and he continues, with the people:
Our Father, who art in heaven . . .

That’s it! Nowhere in the official instruction is there any mention of the assembly holding hands at this part of the Mass. On one side, traditionalists say the custom is an aberration of the rubrics. On the other side, less formal Catholics (I hesitate to label them as outright liberals because many of them are not) couldn’t care less about strict rubrics and find it both meaningful and comforting to join hands with friends, family and strangers while praying in the words our Savior gave us.

So what is the official word on this gesture from Rome or from the United States Bishops? Surprise! There is no official word. As many people know, the attention given to the liturgy these days is directed toward the eventual promulgation of new English texts that conform closer to the original Latin. There has apparently been no official discussion on the issue of holding hands. However, an Internet search on the topic turns up no shortage of opinions, some from authoritative sources. Here is a sampling, with a link to the sources so you can read the quotes in context. Each writer makes excellent points that need to be considered.


From Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum:

It is true that there is no prescribed posture for the hands during the Our Father and that, so far at least, neither the Holy See nor the U.S. bishops' conference has officially addressed it. The argument from silence is not very strong, however, because while there is no particular difficulty in a couple, family or a small group spontaneously holding hands during the Our Father, a problem arises when the entire assembly is expected or obliged to do so.

The process for introducing any new rite or gesture into the liturgy in a stable or even binding manner is already contemplated in liturgical law. This process entails a two-thirds majority vote in the bishops' conference and the go-ahead from the Holy See before any change may take effect. Thus, if neither the bishops' conference nor the Holy See has seen fit to prescribe any posture for the recitation of the Our Father, it hardly behooves any lesser authority to impose a novel gesture not required by liturgical law and expect the faithful to follow their decrees.

While there are no directions as to the posture of the faithful, the rubrics clearly direct the priest and any concelebrants to pray the Our Father with hands extended -- so they at least should not hold hands. One could argue that holding hands expresses the family union of the Church. But our singing or reciting the prayer in unison already expresses this element. The act of holding hands usually emphasizes group or personal unity from the human or physical point of view and is thus more typical of the spontaneity of small groups. Hence it does not always transfer well into the context of larger gatherings where some people feel uncomfortable and a bit imposed upon when doing so.

The use of this practice during the Our Father could detract and distract from the prayer's God-directed sense of adoration and petition, as explained in Nos. 2777-2865 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in favor of a more horizontal and merely human meaning. For all of these reasons, no one should have any qualms about not participating in this gesture if disinclined to do so. They will be simply following the universal customs of the Church, and should not be accused of being a cause of disharmony.

From ZENIT: The World Seen from Rome Nov. 18, 2003

Father McNamara’s column generated a sizeable response:

Judging from the response to our reply regarding holding hands during the Our Father, it would appear that the world is divided into hand-holders and arm-folders with the occasional hand-upholder wedged in the middle.

An Australian subscriber points out: "The best argument for not holding hands is that the holding of hands anticipates and then negates the sign of peace." I must confess that I had never thought of this argument but it does have a certain internal logic.

Personally I would not go so far as to say that the gesture negates the sign of peace, but it does anticipate and duplicate it from the symbolic point of view and, as a consequence, probably detracts from its sign value.

A California reader observes that I said there is little difficulty with a family holding hands during the Our Father. He asks: Should not hand-holding also be appropriate, then, for a larger group, if we consider the parish as family? He also objects to "the idea it might make some feel uncomfortable. “Then let's not have them say the creed either. It might make them feel uncomfortable. Faith is all about being uncomfortable. Growth starts with discomfort."

As is often the case, the analogous value of words can lead to misunderstanding. Yes, the parish is, in a way, a family, but then so is the universal Church, and so is the human race. The point is that holding hands is a normal expression of affection for nuclear families or relatively small groups of people who know each other well.

It is not a usual expression for larger groups of people even though they may be united by spiritual bonds, such as membership in Christ's Mystical Body. I do not deny that it may happen but it is rarely spontaneous and is usually provoked by an organizing agent.


The following is from an article by Fr. William Saunders in the Arlington Catholic Herald. He is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria, Virginia.

Perhaps the holding of hands was introduced with good intentions to highlight the unity of the congregation as they pray, "Our Father," not "My Father." Yet, if unity is the key, then should we not be holding hands throughout the entire Mass?

The unity that is sought really comes later and after a spiritual progression: First, we fall on our knees as the priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass: we recall not only our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection but also our need as individuals to offer ourselves to Him. Second, we pray in the words our Savior taught us, the Lord's Prayer, in which we ask, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," even the person next to us in the pew. Third, we offer the Sign of Peace, a gesture found in the earliest Masses to show a genuine unity based on peace and forgiveness. Finally, we receive Holy Communion, which truly brings us into communion with our Lord and with each other. Looking at the logic of this spiritual progression to real unity, the holding of hands at the Our Father is extraneous.

Can a congregation hold hands anyway, even if it is extraneous? While no one can find fault if a husband and wife, or a family want spontaneously to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer, the priest does not have the right to introduce, mandate, or impose it.

The Church also reminds the priest, who is the guardian of the sacraments and who acts in persona Christi in offering the Mass: "The priest should realize that by imposing his own personal restoration of sacred rites he is offending the rights of the faithful and is introducing individualism and idiosyncracy into celebrations which belong to the whole Church" (Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 1 (1970)).

A person in the pew should not feel obliged or coerced to hold hands with someone else during the Lord's Prayer, yet congregational "peer pressure" could easily lead to such feelings. One can only imagine how intimidated a person must feel by the rest of the congregation if he does not desire to hold hands, whether because of personal preference or because of another reason such as arthritis.

Granted, the holding of hands during the Lord's Prayer seems to have become almost a tradition in some parishes throughout the country. Nevertheless, we must remember that this gesture is not prescribed, it is an innovation to the Mass, and in its goal to build unity and sensitivity, it can be alienating and insensitive to individuals.

From a 1999 edition of The Arlington Catholic Herald


Andrew Santella writes for Slate and has the following thoughts:

It's a dilemma: Hold hands and give up a bit of the traditional Catholic solemnity, or forsake your neighbor's hand for a rosary and take refuge in the practices of the past. It's a choice between retrenchment and assimilation.

That's pretty much the choice facing Catholics on the weightier questions about the church's future as well. Questions like whether priests can someday marry will be settled by the church's hierarchy. But so far, the call on whether or not to hold hands has been left to the people in the pews. The choices we make about holding hands and other points of worship etiquette may not be as binding as a papal bull. But they help articulate the faithful's vision of the church.

From Slate magazine Oct. 31, 2005


David Philippart studied liturgy at the University of Notre Dame and lives in Chicago. He writes:

In technologically advanced and wealthy cultures, the bonds of community are often strained. Whereas in some places -- or even in our own country 50 years ago or so -- you might be born, live, and die all in the same village surrounded by the same people, today we move about, live far from extended family members and close friends, and communicate electronically rather than in the flesh. We sometimes yearn to feel more connected to the people around us, especially our sisters and brothers in Christ and particularly at this moment of supreme intimacy with God and with each other that is the Eucharist.

But precisely because hand-holding denotes a specific kind of intimacy in our culture -- romantic love, or the love of parent and child, for example -- some people feel uncomfortable holding hands at Mass. It's best to respect this. Yet if it is parish custom, those who balk may need to ask themselves, "Does it really hurt me to grasp hands for a few minutes?"

Every parish has a personality, just like every family or household does. Some families or households are very physical in expressing affection: lots of touching, hugging, kissing. Others are more reserved physically: Love is expressed in words and deeds but maybe not very often in hugs and kisses. There's no right or wrong here. What's essential is that we pray the words of Jesus' with sincerity and love.

From US Catholic magazine 2007


W. Patrick Cunningham has written a book that discusses hand holding within the larger context of the entire liturgy.

When I raise questions about this innovation [holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer], the response is usually, "Well, why not? Anything that brings people together is good. We are preparing for Communion, so why not introduce another element of unity? We are saying 'Our Father,' so why shouldn't we symbolize our commonality by joining hands?"

It sounds innocent. But the very fact that this is a radical innovation should give us pause Nowhere in the history of the Church do we find holding hands as a liturgical sign, except in the marriage rite, where hands are joined as a sign of marital unity. If we truly understand and respect the intimacy of this sign, we will not make it promiscuous. There are already powerful sign: of Christian unity in the Mass: the Pax and Holy Communion.

Psychologically speaking, an obtrusive sign of unity that tries to enforce its own compliance is more likely to be in practice a sign of disunity.

-W. Patrick Cunningham
At the Name of Jesus, Every Knee Shall Remain Unbent?
The Language of the Body and the Mass

(New Oxford Review) Feb 1999

Click here for web excerpt


What is my stand on the question of holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer? I am a parish liturgist and musician so I take a pastoral approach. I personally am uncomfortable with the custom, for many of the reasons stated by the above writers. I prefer to simply place my hands in the “orantes” gesture as a gentle indication to those around me that I will not be grabbing their hands. However, my orantes is sometimes mistaken for an invitation as people next to me take my hand anyway. When that happens, I do not pull away. Above all, I do not wish to “make a scene” and distract from the sincere prayer of my parish community.

I admit that I wince whenever I hear a priest introduce the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “And now, let’s take the hand of the person next to us and pray our family prayer . . .” I also regret that two or three generations have now grown up with the custom as a matter of course and do it without question. When or if the US Bishops finally address this issue there will surely be a lot of hurt or confused feelings in the event of the gesture's suppression.

Let us pray . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alienation: Welcome to My Nightmare

My next door neighbor recently mentioned how much he was looking forward to the new movie, Fourth Kind, and wondered if I would join him in seeing it. I politely declined.

There is a new television series called V and whenever there’s a commercial for it I quickly change the channel. I have no intention of seeing it, nor did I see the original 1980s series that it is based on.

Both the movie and the TV series feature the story of aliens on earth, and that creeps me out. You see, I have had a recurring nightmare ever since childhood of being visited by aliens from another world. Each nightmare is consistently the same and goes like this:

I am asleep in my bed when a bright pulsating light starts shining through the drapes of my bedroom window. I groggily get out of bed, open the drapes, and see several space vehicles of various neon colors silently hovering outside my house. A few of them swiftly trade places with each other except for the mothership, which slowly starts to maneuver toward me, it’s bright purple and blue lights strobing faster and faster.

There is no sound at first, but as the mothership zeroes in on me I begin to hear a low throbbing hum. It gets louder and louder as the purple-blue lights start to envelop me. The other ships start zooming around and around in confusing patterns as I feel myself drawn into the mothership, which is now emitting a piercing high-pitched white noise. I’m being pulled into the ship against my will and scream at the top of my lungs.

“No! No! No . . .”

Then I wake up in cold sweat, safely in bed. I had this dream often as a child, and its occurrence increased when I was in college, then tapered off in middle age. But every now and then it comes back with a vengeance. In fact, I dreamed it last week and woke up screaming. My cat, who usually sleeps in another room, came running into my room and jumped on top of my bed, as if to check up on me. He ended up spending the rest of the night at my feet. (Don’t laugh. This really happened.)

I have no idea what this recurring dream means. All I know is that when it occurs, it’s terrifying. I suppose the whole “aliens and spaceships” motif is a symbol for something, but I have never bothered to analyze it. Perhaps I am too scared to even think about it.

“Maybe you were abducted by aliens once,” suggested a good friend of mine. “Do you have any unexplained scars?” He was serious.

Stop right there. I do not for a moment believe in alien abduction, nor do I believe in UFOs. That’s only science-fiction entertainment. So why have these dreams haunted me all my life?

I am open to ideas and interpretations from my readers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


LOL. After reading my recent blog on The Abbey Road Medley (Side Two), a young friend wrote to me and asked, “What do you mean by Side Two?”

I started laughing and chided myself for being so Boomer-centric. After all, it’s a legitimate question that deserves a decent answer. Here goes. For pedagogical purposes, I will answer this question as a dialogue.


Youth: What do you mean by Side Two?

Boomer: Once upon a time, before iPods, iTunes, MP3 players, and CDs, recorded music was distributed on a medium called a “record” that came in two sizes: a “single,” distinguished by a large hole in the center and played at 45 RPMs; and a long-playing album or “LP,” distinguished by a small hole and played at 33 and 1/3 RPMs.

Youth: Hold on. What’s RPM?

Boomer: Revolutions per minute.

Youth: You mean the little record goes around and around 45 times in one minute?

Boomer: Yes.

Youth: Let’s count it out . . .

Boomer: No, please take my word for it. Where were we? Oh, yeah, each record has two sides: Side One and Side Two.

Youth: Duh!

Boomer: Do you want to hear this or not? A single has only one song per side. An LP might have as many as six songs per side.

Youth: (Yawn) My iPod Nano can hold over 2000 songs.

Boomer: Right. Anyway, when a side is over, you have to get up and turn the record over to play the other side.

Youth: That’s dumb.

Boomer: No, it isn’t. It was actually ahead of its time since it made good use of the entire medium and didn’t waste anything.

Youth: Yeah, but when you were a teenager and you had a party, that means the music stopped at the end of the record and somebody had to turn it over.

Boomer: So?

Youth: Talk about killing the mood . . .

Boomer: Some of us had an automatic hi-fi record player where we would stack several records. At the end of one record, the tone arm would swing back, allow the next record to drop, then automatically place the needle on the first track.

Youth: (mock surprise) You used needles when you were a teenager?

Boomer: (with headache starting) Now cut that out!

Youth: (laughing) Yeah, yeah, I know all about records and turntables. DJs are still big for my generation, you know. I was just messing with you. Anyway, back to Side Two. I still think it’s inconvenient to stop the party or whatever when one side is over, get up, turn the record over, and put the needle back on, even if you have that stacking thing.

Boomer: Well, there was one really cool advantage to having two sides to an album. Rock groups and singers could arrange the tracks like a show. Side One was like the first act. Side Two was the second act and the first track of Side Two was as important as the first track on Side One because they each drew the listener into the side. Let’s take Abbey Road as an example.

Youth: I like the Beatles.

Boomer: All right! Side One starts with “Come Together,” an awesome way to begin. It’s followed by “Something,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and all the great tracks that lead to the thundering “I Want You,” with its droning ending.

Youth: Cool.

Boomer: So, after hearing those six killer tracks, the listener almost needs to catch his breath and turn the record over. After John Lennon’s dark “I Want You,” it’s a pleasant relief to hear George Harrison’s bright and airy, “Here Comes the Sun.” In fact, when I was a kid and flipped the Abbey Road record over for the first time, I almost fell on the floor upon hearing the sheer joy of George’s song. And then that led to the whole suite of The Abbey Road Medley, straight through to “The End” and “Her Majesty.” What a masterpiece!

Youth: But . . .

Boomer: But, what?

Youth: You mean you actually listened to whole records in one sitting, from start to finish?

Boomer: Yeah. It was the cool thing to do when we were hanging out with our friends.

Youth: (scratching his head) I dunno. I always hit Shuffle on my iPod. I like to be surprised by the variety of songs and artists that Shuffle sends into my earbuds.

Boomer: (sighing) That, my friend, is the difference between your generation and mine. Why, back in my day . . . (annoyed) Hey, are you even listening?

Youth: (texting into cell phone)

Boomer: Hello? (waving hand over youth’s eyes) Anybody home?

Youth: Sorry, dude. Gotta go.

And off he goes, iPod earbuds in place, oblivious to the world around him as he continues texting. He’s happy with music his way, and more power to him. But there are times when I do miss Side One and Side Two and the whole pleasure of hearing an album’s tracks unfold in the thoughtful order that the artists intended.

Notre Dame Rumor Mill

Whoo, boy! The rumor mill is running rampant among the Fighting Irish cognoscenti. Ever since Notre Dame lost to Navy last Saturday (second time in three years), the cries of “off with his head” have been directed at coach Charlie Weis with a vehemence not seen since . . . the time they were directed at the previous ND coach.

Poor Charlie’s been on the hot seat for more than three years, ever since he signed the ten-year contract that expires in 2015, and whose idea was that? Although his win-loss record isn’t exactly a disaster, for Notre Dame football, success is only measured by an appearance in a BCS bowl, something that hasn’t happened in the Weis years. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Here are some of the more interesting rumors that circulated on Monday:

  • Weis gets fired this week. He is replaced by Corwin Brown or Ron Powlus, QB coach and former Irish star.

  • Weis stays on to coach the remaining three games: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Stanford. If he wins all three there may be a reprieve. Or, if he wins all three, he graciously steps aside and allows the aforementioned Brown or Powlus to coach any ensuing consolation bowl.

  • Weis gets fired after this season.

Here is a list of rumored successors:

  • Brian Kelly (currently with the Bearcats of the University of Cincinnati)

  • Urban Meyer (currently with the Florida Gators; if only ND had been successful in wooing him four years ago . . .)

  • Jon Gruden (ESPN broadcaster this year, former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders

Whoa! Jon Gruden? Really?

Hold on. These are just rumors and flights of fancy. Kelly and Meyer are doing very well at their current schools. Why on earth would they move? As for Gruden, I have to think that there will be a few NFL openings for him after this season. Why would he go to the college game?

In fairness to Weis, when he took over after Tyrone Willingham he did coach Brady Quinn into one of the most successful quarterbacks in recent Irish memory. But that was years ago. In sports, you’re only as good as “What have you done for me lately?”

Interesting days ahead for the Fighting Irish. Meanwhile, here's an interesting analysis from Sports Illustrated:
"Notre Dame Is No Longer Different Than Other Programs of Its Type" by Stewart Mandel

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Abbey Road Medley (Side Two)

Robert Feduccia, my friend and fellow Beatles fan, was gushing last week about his copy of the newly remastered Abbey Road album. He asked me about how involved John was in a couple of Paul's songs. Here is my reply.


Like scriptural form criticism, one cannot speak of "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight" unless it is within the context of all ten songs in what has come to be known as The Abbey Road Medley:

You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
Giolden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
Her Majesty

The Beatles were breaking up. They knew it and their producer George Martin knew it. Nobody really said, "Let's do a final album because we're breaking up," but that sentiment certainly informed the whole time they recorded Abbey Road. The group had just been through a near-disastrous filming and recording of the Let It Be tracks and they knew those songs weren't really the best they could do. There was even talk of not releasing Let It Be at all. So "we can do better than that" was the spirit that drove the Abbey Road sessions.

The problem was that the guys really didn't have too many finished songs for a new album. Oh, they had the splendid complete compositions on Side One (Come Together, Something, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Oh Darling, Octopus' Garden, I Want You), plus George's superb "Here Comes the Sun" that opened up Side Two. But they needed more songs to finish out the LP. You can almost hear them talking among themselves.

Paul: John, you got anything?

John: Nah, just a couple of jibberwoks with nonsensical lyrics (Sun King, Polythene Pam). You?

Paul: Not much, just a lullaby (Golden Slumbers) and that blues song we've been jamming on for a few weeks (Bathroom Window).

George Martin: Well, let's just record everything you've got and see what happens. . .

And they did. And it was Paul who said, "Let's put it all together like a suite. Can you do that, George (Martin)?"

And so George Martin did. This is a prime example of the whole being better than the parts. And as they polished each song fragment, all four of them contributed something to just about all the tracks. For example, all four sang the chorus on "Carry That Weight," a rare occurrence on a Beatles song. John also played bass on that track. George Harrison played Moog synthesizer* on "Because" and bass on "Bathroom Window" and "Golden Slumbers." John, Paul AND George played dueling lead guitars on "The End." And, for good measure, they persuaded Ringo to play his first-ever drum solo on the track so he could shine like they did on the guitar duel. In other words, despite the group's pending breakup, they apparently had a grand time recording Abbey Road.

In an interview for The Big Beat magazine, Ringo is quoted as saying:
"I love the second side of Abbey Road, where it's all connected and disconnected. No one wanted to finish those songs, so we put them all together and it worked. I think that piece of that album is some of our finest work."

Knowing this background story, I think it is clear that the Beatles knew exactly what they were doing when they gifted the world with the Abbey Road album. If they were going to break up, they might as well go out in style.

"And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. . ."

Stephen J. Spignesi and Michael Lewis, Here, There and Everywhere: The 100 Best Beatles Songs, New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004

Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, New York: Harmony Books, 1988

* Among other things, Abbey Road was also one of the first mainstream rock albums to extensively use the then-new Moog synthesizer. You can hear it shine on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Because," and "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Astro Boy and Other Childhood Icons

It happens when I least expect it. There’s Toby on the movie screen, reconstructed, confused, and wondering who he is and what he has become. Accidentally falling out the window of his high-rise apartment, he suddenly discovers the awesome power of flight. He is Astro Boy and he soars happily through the cloud-filled sky. Onward and upward!

My eyes start to water with tears.

There’s Alan Tracy and his pal Fermat in the rec room of their boarding school, watching his big brothers of International Rescue on TV as they risk their lives in their futuristic Thunderbird crafts, saving innocents from certain disaster. The kids in the school gasp at every treacherous move, then burst into cheers as the rescue is accomplished.


There’s the confused young Peter Parker who, on a hunch, starts climbing up the wall of an old city building. Looking down from several stories, his eyes widen in amazement as he yells out in the sheer joy of discovery. He has become a Spider-Man!

More tears.

There’s Superman, weak from a kryptonite stabbing by Lex Luthor. Rescued from sure death by Lois Lane, who pulled out the deadly knife from his wounded side, they are now aboard Richard White’s seaplane, flying away from the danger. The Man of Steel opens the hatch to return to Luthor. Lois is aghast. “What are you doing?” she exclaims.

“I have to go back.”

“He’ll kill you!”

Superman looks fondly at his one-time girlfriend and smiles. “Goodbye, Lois.” And off he goes into the sky. He has a job to do.

I’m bawling my eyes out.

Okay, what’s happening here? I’m not one to cry easily, especially in public, but the tears do seem to come easily in a darkened theater if the movie is about one of my childhood icons. I was crying again while watching the new Astro Boy movie, grateful that the theater was practically empty for the early afternoon matinee.

I think it comes down to trying to recapture a lost part of my youth. I had a . . . difficult childhood. (And let the record state that I do NOT blame my parents.) I grew up in poverty, in a housing project, surrounded by crime and idle youth. I was bullied at school, sometimes just because I got good grades. There were times when I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world.

So I took refuge in comic books. For only ten cents I would be soaring in an entirely different brightly colored world, filled with heroes who struggled with their everyday lives but somehow overcame the villain by page 23. Pow! Bam! Zap!

“This country is safe once again, Superman, thanks to you!”

I thrived on science-fiction and comic books and watched my favorite TV shows religiously every week: Lost in Space; Batman; Star Trek; The Green Hornet; Thunderbirds; Astro Boy; and the endless reruns of George Reeves’ The Adventures of Superman.

This fantasy world was my refuge from the daily challenges I grew up with. My heroes gave me hope that I could rise up above the forces that challenged me. I, too, could triumph in the end.

Eventually, I grew up and became a man and put aside such childish things. But whenever Hollywood makes a movie of one of my childhood heroes, I am the first in line -- and the first to cry.

My childhood scars helped shape me into the man I have become. I am grateful for my heroes, for the good that they symbolized and, most of all, for the hope that they inspired in me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Of Blogs and Ken

First, an apology. I set up this blog page to share my musings and I really haven’t shared anything of late. The truth of the matter is that I have nothing to say. Is that okay? (Good morning, good morning, good morning, yeah . . .)

I do get a kick out of reading other people’s blogs, mainly because they seem to be such exercises in self-indulgence. Have you noticed the current penchant for incivility? (“You lie!” cried the out-of-order senator on the Senate floor.) I’m not saying blogging is the root of the problem, but it is certainly a symptom, or at least related tangent. After all, it is so easy type away one’s indignation at the president’s policies, the politician’s unbending stance, the talk-show host’s picadillos, the current state of liturgical music, the total collapse of one’s favorite team in the playoffs, or that jerk who cut me off on the freeway while I was talking on my cell phone. What a world we live in! How can I get back? I’ll show them: blogs and blogs of negative diatribes!


That’s the problem right there. Too many people are expressing exactly what they think and feel (generally a good thing; get it off your chest) and sharing it immediately without thinking through the ramifications (a not-so-good thing). Blogging is such an anonymous and empowering medium. As the 1980s saying goes, “On the Internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog.”

I think it was mom (always a good quotable source) who said: “Think before you speak.” We need to listen more to mom.

Another consideration: What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet.

I often counsel young people to think twice before they share photos of their last drunken party on Facebook, or post blogs of frustration laced with four-letter words against their teachers or parents. This stuff may come back to haunt them later in life. In fact, the Internet has been around long enough where I actually know a few people who are regretting something they posted just a couple of years ago because it apparently made the difference in their unsuccessful job application. Yes, of course, their prospective boss Googled their name. These days, who doesn’t?

I guess this is a rather long way of explaining why I might seem hesitant to post my innermost opinions on a blog. I do feel that I might have something worthwhile to share, but I also don’t want to contribute to the negative incivility that seems to be characterizing this first decade of the 21st century. I also don’t want stuff to come back and haunt me.

But I’m a writer and I make a living as a writer. And being a writer means taking the risk to put yourself out there. Maybe it’s time for me to do just that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Roots of my Notre Dame fandom

"Touchdown Jesus" at Notre Dame Stadium!

Any casual reader of my Facebook, Twitter and blog entries will notice my enthusiastic devotion to Notre Dame football. Some questions people ask me:

Did you go to Notre Dame?
No, but I have many friends who were or are students there.

Were you taught by the Holy Cross Fathers?
No, although I did play the organ once at a Mass celebrated by Father Hesberg while he was visiting a church in Southern California. Got to shake his hand, too. That was a thrill!

Well, then, why are you a fan of Notre Dame, especially since you were born in Los Angeles and should be rooting for USC?
Two words: Irish priests! I grew up with Irish priests. One of my fondest teen memories is helping out at my parish on Saturday afternoons: stuffing envelopes in the pews, changing the missalettes, putting out the bulletins, etc. After we finished, the pastor would invite us helpers to watch the afternoon Notre Dame game with him. Father would then explain the nuances of college football, and how all Catholics should be rooting for Notre Dame.

What can I say? I’m an obedient Catholic. Go, Irish!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Meaning Behind It All

World Trade Center as seen from the International Space Station on September 11, 2001. To download this NASA image, click here.

Every generation has their “red-letter date” when people remember exactly what they were doing and where they were when they heard the news. For Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” it was December 7, 1941, when the Japanese Imperialist forces attacked the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin Roosevelt declared it a “day of infamy.” The United States had no choice but to shed its isolationist stance and enter World War II by sending troops to both the European and Pacific fronts.

For Boomers, their date was November 22, 1963. Although I was not around during World War II, I do remember vividly the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was late morning and I was in 5th grade in Los Angeles. The teacher from next door came into our classroom and whispered something into the ear of my teacher, Miss Plested. They both started crying and that sure got the kids’ attention because we had never seen our teachers cry before. Miss Plested announced the dreadful news, and we were stunned.

The principal cancelled classes for the rest of the day and sent us all home for lunch. President Kennedy was my hero and I was stifling my emotions in front of my classmates. But by the time I arrived home I suddenly burst into tears and ran to my bedroom. My father happened to be home that morning, and both he and mom rushed over to my side. They heard the news, of course, and mom cradled me in her arms.

September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful fall morning in Portland, Oregon, and I opened my balcony window to take in the downtown view as I got ready to drive to work. As per my custom, I turned on the television to get weather and traffic reports, and there was the World Trade Center in New York City, with one tower on fire. I was a little groggy and not fully awake as I tried to comprehend what was going on. Suddenly, the cameras focused on a jetliner that was zooming dangerously low. As it crashed into the second tower, the newscaster exclaimed three simple words that I think summed it up for all of America: “Oh, my God . . .”

Writers and pundits better than me have tried to find and express the meaning behind it all. On the two red-letter dates of my lifetime, I was struck by the unity that followed in tragedy’s wake. For a short time, the world seemed to be one as we mourned the passing of President Kennedy or as we gathered in our churches, synagogues and mosques to pray during the week of 9/11. Alas, this unity was short-lived as the 1960s unfolded into more tumult and war. Strangely, this current decade has experienced a similar unfolding.

On this eighth anniversary of 9/11, let us remember those who have died or who have suffered: the victims and those brave police and firefighters who rushed to rescue them and also died trying. I pray that the unity that we glimpsed that week may someday become a lasting legacy. Perhaps that might be the meaning behind it all.

Pope Benedict's Prayer at Ground Zero

Grant Us Peace

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why two Rubber Souls?

Yesterday, 9/9/09, was an anointed Beatles Day because of the dual release of the remastered Beatles albums and the Beatles Rock Band video game. More on those two items in future blogs.

My friend and colleague, Robert Feduccia, had asked me why there were two versions of Rubber Soul, the Beatles' landmark 1965 album that was the first sign of their maturing songcraft. I was somewhat amused by that question because it showed how young my friend really is! (Or, maybe how old I really am!) Anyway, here is my explanation.

Capitol Records is the American affiliate of Britain's EMI record label. Both sides of the Atlantic had their own peculiar standards for record production and track listing. Capitol, which originally rejected the Beatles as being "too British," ate crow when the group hit it big on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. But rather than simply re-release the British LP With the Beatles (the group's then-current chart topper in the UK), Capitol decided to milk the Beatles for all they were worth. They renamed the album Meet the Beatles and removed several tracks to make room for some hit USA singles, namely "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There."

A major difference in philosophy: UK record labels didn't believe in including hit singles on albums. American labels thought that was ridiculous and saw the hit single as the way to entice buyers into buying the whole album, even though they might already have bought the 45. Also, British albums had more tracks than American albums. Hence, ever since Meet the Beatles, Capitol had to take all the removed tracks and put them onto another album, with more hit singles tacked on to fill it out and sell it. So in the USA we had The Beatles' Second Album which consisted of the removed With the Beatles tracks plus the "She Loves You" hit single. The Beatles' Second Album did not exist in the UK.

And so it went for several years. Capitol removed some tracks from the British A Hard Day's Night and included them in Something New (the group's third Capitol album) along with some tracks from British EPs that were not available in the USA ("Slow Down," "Matchbox").

EMI released Beatles for Sale. Capitol cannibalized that into Beatles '65 and included the hit singles "She's a Woman" and "I Feel Fine" (my absolute FAVORITE grade school hit, BTW).

EMI released Help! and Capitol regurgitated that into two albums: Help! (USA) and Beatles VI, which also included some leftover Beatles for Sale tracks.

Most insidious was Capitol's splitting of Rubber Soul and Revolver into THREE albums: Rubber Soul (USA), Revolver (USA), and Yesterday and Today, which included all the removed tracks from the the two British LPs plus the monster USA hit single "Yesterday," which, BTW, was NEVER released in Britain as a single. Paul's timeless solo ballad was a uniquely American phenomenon.

Needless to say, the Beatles were not pleased with Capitol's permutations, especially with Rubber Soul and Revolver since those two albums were the beginning of their emergence out of the box of their boy band image. By the time Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was produced, the group demanded that Capitol release their psychedelic masterpiece exactly as they mastered it -- or they wouldn't give it to Capitol at all. Thankfully, Capitol caved, and every Beatles album since Sgt. Pepper was the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

In fairness to Capitol, I will tip my Beatles wig respectfully to them for two major reasons: 1) Capitol added more reverb to the vocals to match American standards; and 2) Capitol turned up McCartney's bass to meet American standards. Lennon was the one who complained loudly about Capitol's cannibalism, but he did praise the American label's bass volume. "Why can't EMI turn Paul up more like in America?" he used to complain to the British engineers.

Reference point: Compare the EMI and Capitol versions of "And I Love Her." The song is great on EMI, of course, but on Capitol, Paul's bass has such presence and his vocals shine with effervescence.

Anyway, long story short, Capitol did kinda rip off the American fans with their cannibalism, but they more than made up for it with their solid remastering. And, the American track order is what we 1960s kids grew up with, and that's valid. I still cringe when I hear "Drive My Car" as the first track on "Rubber Soul." I prefer "I've Just Seen a Face" as that album's Gathering Song. :-)

I CAN'T WAIT to get my hands on the new remixed/remastered CDs!