Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Movies and Television: Who Has Time?

I don’t see movies anymore. Who has time? I sure don’t. After I get home from the office, my time in the evening is best spent doing research and writing for my upcoming books, or in composing new music, or other creative pursuits. Weekends are taken up with my parish music ministry. So the very idea of spending two precious hours alone in a dark theater with Hollywood’s latest high decibel effects-laden bombast is, quite frankly, unappealing to me. 

There was a time when I looked forward to the latest superhero or science-fiction movie, but the genre has become worn out, at least for me. Surely, there must be another way to tell a story without the protagonist needing to wear a mask or wreaking havoc in the skies above a densely populated metropolis while dressed in armor or cape and tights. 

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up with comic books. Every Saturday, I raced on my bike to the local Thrifty drug store to peruse the comic book rack for the latest offerings from DC and Marvel. My favorites in the late 1960s were Jack Kirby’s New Gods  series plus Neal Adams’ Green Lantern-Green Arrow  series and his work on Deadman and Batman. Live action portrayals of comic books were limited to television with the Adventures of Superman  in the 1950s, Batman (Adam West) in the 1960s, and Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk  in the 1970s. That was it! There was also Captain Marvel (SHAZAM) and a cheesy Spider-Man  series but my point is that live action superhero portrayals were rare and, therefore, much appreciated.

Fast forward to the 21st  century. There’s a new superhero movie almost every month! So, of course, the genre will become tired and worn. But I also stopped going to the movies because I’m hearing-impaired. Even with digital hearing aids and modern state-of-the-art theatrical sound systems, I still miss much of the dialogue in a movie house. Can you understand my reluctance to go to the movies these days? 

Having said that, there’s a major Avengers movie out right now. I missed the last one, and I also didn’t see Black Panther  and Captain Marvel  for the reasons stated above. In fact, this serialized movie-by-movie storytelling is the reason I don’t watch television anymore. Again, who has time to keep up with the storylines of a weekly television series – let alone the serialized MCU? 

But in order to stay in the loop with office and online conversations, I guess I have no choice but to see Avengers: Endgame. Sigh. It’s three hours long. Three hours of my life that I will never get back. 

Important Sidebar: Avengers: Endgame  raked in $1.2 BILLION worldwide on its opening weekend. ONE POINT TWO BILLION DOLLARS! Who is pocketing this excessive intake? Think about it. Worldwide poverty could be eliminated by these movies! (Yeah, I’m opening myself up to Judas criticism, but I am only posing the question!) 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

On Being an Apostle Today

By today’s standards, the apostles were failures. Jesus chose to surround himself with a ragtag group of men from the working class. Four were fishermen. One was a tax collector. None of them had experience in marketing, public relations and management. Consider what happened to them. (Nowadays, this would be called a performance review.) 

Peter, whom Jesus called “Rock,” became the leader, and Roman Catholics have always considered him as the first pope. He founded the church in Corinth, baptized the first Gentile and, if you read his first epistle, helped bring the Good News to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia and Asia. Eventually, he came to Rome, established a new church there, and was put to death by the Romans in upside-down crucifixion – at Peter’s request because he considered himself unworthy to die as Jesus died. 

Andrew, the brother of Peter, preached to the Gentiles in eastern Greece and was sentenced to die by X-crucifixion. 

Philip went to Phrygia, now central Turkey, and was martyred there. 

James, the son of Zebedee, was put to death by Herod in the year 42. 

James, the cousin of Jesus, eventually became the first bishop of Jerusalem and converted many from the Jewish faith. He was martyred in the year 62. 

Bartholomew and Thomas are said to have brought the faith to India, where they were both martyred. 

Matthew, in whose name one of the gospels is attributed, preached in Syria, Ethiopia and Persia. He, too, died the martyr’s death. 

So did Simon, Jude Thaddeus, and Matthias, who was elected to replace Judas Iscariot. You see the pattern here. With the notable exception of Saint John, every one of the apostles were put to death. That should have been the end of their mission. By today’s standards, news of all these deaths would be the most demoralizing thing that could happen to a company. It doesn’t do the corporation any good if the top field men consistently get themselves killed while selling the product. 

But this isn’t just any corporation we’re talking about. This is the early church. And it isn’t just any product, not a hot NASDAQ prospect or a startup Internet opportunity. The “product” is simply Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life. Think about it. We moderns are pre-conditioned to the message of Jesus. For most of us, our faith is handed on to us from our parents, for better or for worse. But at the time of the apostles, there was no organized church, no inner governing or marketing structure. 

The birth, life and death of Jesus did not even warrant any mention by the historians of the day. He lived and preached in an obscure country in the backwater of the great Roman Empire. He arrived in Jerusalem at the age of 33 for the Passover. In three days, he was arrested, tried and convicted for treason, and executed like a common criminal. That should have been the end of that. 

But something happened. Jesus rose from the dead. Of course, there was no network coverage of this singular news event. There were no paparazzi buzzing around with iPhone cameras and in-your-face microphones. None of the apostles could really prove that this common criminal had defied death and was alive again. The only evidence was an empty tomb. And if this man were truly alive again, where was he? Why was he not present to prove his point? If Jesus truly rose from the dead, why did he not go straight to the Roman emperor and show himself, proving once and for all that he was indeed the Son of God? “Give me proof,” the logical Greco-Roman mind was asking, as the early Christians were routinely put to death. 

Something happened. The apostles attracted and gathered around themselves people who were intrigued with three aspects of their message. First, there was the belief in eternal life. In the ancient world, only the gods lived forever: Zeus, Mercury, Aphrodite, and all their band. After death, the human consciousness survived in the dim underworld of Hades. But according to the apostles, when Jesus accepted his death he conquered death and opened up eternal life to ALL who believe. This is the reason the Roman authorities were dumbfounded by the Christians’ ease and willingness in being put to death, either by crucifixion, the sword, or in the lion’s den. After all, if you believe you are going to live forever then you gain the strength to face any challenge to your beliefs, even death. 

Something happened. The Romans threw people out into the streets at the first sign of contagious disease because they were afraid of dying, but the Christians welcomed the sick and nursed them back to health. Aristotle taught that prudence, courage and temperance were the virtues proper to the good life, but Jesus emphasized humility, patience and peacemaking. In Roman times, Christian compassion was manifest in special concern for widows, orphans, the aged, and the infirm. When Saint Lawrence, a deacon and early martyr, was arrested by the Roman authorities and ordered to reveal the church’s treasures, he showed them the hungry and the sick. 

Something happened. The third thing that appealed to people curious about the Christians was their unabashed love for each other. In a world where revenge often defined honor, the message of Jesus was “Turn the other cheek; pray for your persecutors.” There must have been some very tangible sense of care and belonging in the early Christian communities, something that was very real and appealing to outsiders not accustomed to such treatment. The Christians truly lived these words of Jesus: “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples: through your love for one another.” 

Something very definitely happened. As the apostles willingly marched to their deaths, the Good News of Jesus Christ did not die with them. Their message of eternal life, compassion, and love for one another seized the imagination and heart of the ancient world and spread across the empire like wildfire. In just 300 years, Christianity conquered Rome not by war and violence but by faith and love. When Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration, the faith of the apostles of Jesus became the official religion of the empire. Very impressive for a ragtag team of working-class fishermen from an obscure backwater country. 

What does this all mean for Christians today? Through our baptism, each one of us is called to share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, to be an apostle. With Christianity so firmly established, we might not be called to bring the message of Christ to the outer reaches of the world. God willing, most of us won’t be called to die for Christ. But I do think that our apostleship is a calling to bring the Good News to the people who live with us and interact with us every day. Jesus is depending on us to make his message real in our families, in our friendships, in the workplace – not as soapbox preachers but simply as apostles.

We can be apostles in the way we reach out to our family and friends and support them at the time of death. We can be apostles when we really listen to each other and not take our families and friends for granted, when we celebrate the joys and victories and hold each other up in the setbacks and disappointments. We can be apostles when we look for ways to reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves. We can be apostles simply through our genuine love for each other. 

The story goes that during World War II, a little village in Bavaria was virtually wiped out by air raid bombings. Among the casualties was the parish church, and the large statue of Christ in the church yard was badly damaged. After the war, parishioners set about restoring the church but they could not find the hands for their beloved statue. The pastor advised his people to let it go. He placed a sign at the foot of the statue that reads: “I have no hands but yours, to bring help and healing to a broken world.” 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Daily Blog: Write, Write and Write!

I am trying to take seriously the task of blogging more regularly. I don’t know if anybody is actually reading these things, but my platform statistics look good, so thank you. The question becomes: What the heck can I write about every day? 

Blogging is important because it’s a way for me to get back into the practice of writing. Many young people have asked me what it takes to become a writer. Three simple words: Write, write, and write! Daily writing helps a writer to refine the craft and grow. In this modern age, people are so overly busy, being pulled and pushed by too many commitments. There seems to be no time to slow down and breathe. Writing is conducive to healthy reflection. It’s important to take a little time out of our busy-ness and simply think about what we’re doing in life, where we are going, and what we are dreaming and hoping. Even if blogs are simply a record of what we did on a given day, it’s a start. 

Writing can be a form of prayer. Many of the great saints kept a journal of some kind. I’m not saying I’m a saint, by the way. Far from it! But I can appreciate the discipline of sitting down and remembering my thoughts and feelings, my joys and sorrows, my accomplishments and disappointments. After blogging on and off for the past ten years, I can now look back on my life and give thanks to God for both the blessings and the not so great times. 

And I’m not talking about quick tweets on Twitter or status updates on Facebook. If we’re not careful, social media can degenerate into so much venting. Blogging takes a bit more effort, with complete sentences and development of thought. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy it. 

I once had a friend comment to me that he can always recognize my emails and social media posts because they are so grammatically correct, with no misspellings, abbreviations or shortcuts. I consider that a great compliment. Have you ever read The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White? That little gem of a book was required reading in my Sophomore English class during high school. I remember how my classmates and I bemoaned our professor’s once-a-week focus when he read a portion of the book, commented on it, and had us writing examples of what he lectured on. But I now appreciate Strunk and White’s sage advice, particularly on the importance of conciseness, and I occasionally re-read their classic just to keep my writing focused. 

Another influential writer for me is J.D. Salinger, the lifelong reclusive who essentially only had one major book, The Catcher in the Rye. But sometimes it only takes one classic to put a writer on the map. Catcher would seem to be the complete antithesis of The Elements of Style, with its colloquial and slang-heavy first person narrative that was filled with the seemingly non-sequitur ramblings of its teen protagonist, Holden Caulfield. But what a masterful way to get into the mind of that character! 

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, John Steinbeck is another writer who has had great influence over me. First, he is one of America’s most prolific novelists who was not afraid to tackle important social issues in an accessible and often entertaining way. Steinbeck had this gift for helping his readers understand the motivations that drove his colorful cast of characters. One of my favorite examples of this is from Travels with Charley, his journal of a road trip across America with his beloved dog. One early morning, after a long night of hard driving, he pulled into a hotel to check in, but the only room available was in messy disarray from the previous guest. The staff had not yet had an opportunity to clean the room, but Steinbeck said it was okay. He just wanted a place to crash into deep slumber; he didn’t care about the condition of the room. 

Steinbeck immediately became preoccupied with the mess left behind by the previous guest, including crumbled newspapers and discarded letters and bills. Based on that small amount of information, the great author wrote a fascinating character sketch on a man whom he had never met! 

So my advice to young aspiring writers – Write, write, and write! – is supplemented by three more words: Read, read, and read! It is only through writing and reading that one becomes a writer. It can be a lonely and reclusive vocation but the task of shaping words and ideas into prose or poetry that inspires readers is richly rewarding. 

And now I have enough substance in this blog for posting. Thank you for reading! 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Nicholas Andrew Barber: Healing Troubadour

This Lent I’ve had the privilege of doing music ministry with my good friend Nicholas Andrew Barber during a brief mini-tour featuring a prayerful performance (for lack of a better word) of his Stations of the Cross: A Musical Pilgrimage. These are personal musical reflections on the Catholic devotion of Jesus’ journey to Calvary, composed by Nick in a compelling contemporary folk music style. 

Nick and I first shared his Stations at my parish, Holy Trinity in Beaverton, Oregon, on Holy Week of 2018. Our church was dedicated in the year 2000 so our walls are lined with the Scriptural Stations of Pope John Paul II, and that is what we performed. But Nick realized that he also needed to set the traditional Stations to music, which we performed at his parish, St. Peter’s in Newberg, Oregon, and on Palm Sunday at Lady Hill Winery in St. Paul, Oregon. 

You can hear a preview of Nick’s Stations in this video: 

I first met Nick at Holy Trinity when he and his wife Erika were in our RCIA. We joyfully celebrated their reception into the Catholic Church in 2017 at the Easter Vigil. Hailing from Nebraska, Nick is a Christian artist with a couple of CD albums that he shared with me. I was immediately impressed with both his beautiful voice and his original music, and I invited him to sing one of his compositions, “Clear Intentions,” at our Good Friday liturgy on the night before he and his family were received into the Church. 

Parishioners were deeply moved by Nick’s heartfelt singing. Our choir sang another song of his, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” at our annual International Festival in May. Nick and I have since performed his music together for concerts at Holy Trinity and at the Grotto’s Festival of Lights in December. In fact, we’re already booked at the Grotto for this coming Advent on December 1, 2019 at 5:15pm. Join us! 

Nick had a promising career as a Christian artist but he gave that up for several years, and that’s another compelling part of his story.  Nick felt called to a career in medicine, a long road with many years of study and internship. Along the way, he met his future wife Erika who was also a medical student. They married, had four beautiful children, and relocated to the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Nicholas A. Barber, MD, specializes in hematology and medical oncology, and is now affiliated with Providence Health Care. He serves his cancer patients and their families with compassion in a warm and welcoming environment. 

Nick is a dedicated medical professional but he has always hoped to return someday to composing and performing his Christian music. Along the way, he felt called to inquire about the Church and he explored the possibility of becoming Catholic. As our friendship has grown, I have been inspired by Nick’s sincere spirituality and his quest to deepen his relationship with God. We have spent many an evening talking about Jesus and liturgical music and the challenging issues that Catholics face today in the 21st century. Nick’s strong faith is a bulwark for his family and an inspiration to his friends, and this comes across in his music. 

Somehow, in the midst of his busy medical career and his being a loving husband and father, Nick finds time to nurture his ministry as a Catholic Christian artist. He is currently recording his Stations of the Cross (both Traditional and Scriptural) as an independent project and hopes to have a CD ready in time for Lent 2020. He loves performing and gets out on the road as often as his schedule permits. Lastly, Nick and I are starting to compose songs together. God is good! 

Nicholas Andrew Barber is definitely an artist to watch in the years ahead! 

Nick’s website: 


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holy Week Reflection: Suffering and Death

Before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, all four Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ were proclaimed during Holy Week: Matthew on Palm Sunday; Mark on Tuesday; Luke on Wednesday; and John on Good Friday. Catholic school children of the era went to Mass every day during Lent, and Holy Week was a real challenge because we remained standing during the whole Gospel; none of this “please be seated” comfort that many parishes today utilize for the Passion’s proclamation. And remember, back then the Passion was proclaimed in Latin! 

After ten-plus minutes of standing at attention while hearing nothing but the holy drone of the ancient ritual language, it was blessed relief to kneel down for meditation after Jesus died. As Sister sternly explained in the classroom after Mass, “Our discomfort is nothing compared to the suffering that Jesus endured for us on the cross.” Ah, Catholic school education!* 

The suffering of Jesus. We Christians hear all our lives that “Jesus died just for you.” But what exactly does that mean? I don’t think that soteriology (the theology of salvation) can be reduced to a quick slogan. The redemption brought about by Jesus’ horrific death by crucifixion is rooted in rich and complex theology and biblical history. The ancient world’s concept of “sacrificial offering” as a way to win favor with God is an expression of humanity’s natural yearning for union with the divine, of a search to attain something that is beyond our material experience. 

It all comes down to death. We’re born. We live. We die. Is that it? That is the mystery that various faith traditions have wrestled with ever since those early humans looked up into the starry night sky and pondered the meaning of life. Christians believe in eternal life but, ironically, the doorway to eternal life is death. As a little kid might say to a parent who is trying to make him do something he would rather not, “Do I have to?” 

Over the years, I watched helplessly as my beloved parents and my brother Tops approached death’s door and eventually walked through it. Heart failure; cancer; the shutting down of the body because of old age – did they have to die THAT way? I have lost several friends and classmates because of accidents, unexpected illness, or suicide. Did they have to die THAT way? 

The Gospel of John teaches us that the Word became flesh: God became human. The Creator became creature. The unseeable Transcendence became visible and grounded. We know this Incarnate God by the name of Jesus Christ, who walked in our shoes, experienced the simple joys of childhood, and mourned the death of loved ones. He achieved success as a preacher and miracle worker and was warmed by the companionship of close friends, but eventually was betrayed and abandoned by them. Jesus would die, as we all must die, but did he have to die THAT way, on that horrible and bloody cross? 

I don’t have an answer to the question of suffering and death. I do know that every year, when I hear again the moving story of Jesus’ Passion, I am inspired by his silence. He endured his suffering without complaint. And when he did say something on that via dolorosa, it was all about compassion and mercy. 

“Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children.” 
(Luke 23:28)

“This day you will be with me in paradise.” 
(Luke 23:43)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” 
(Luke 23:34)

The pathway toward death that we all must walk is fraught with unexplainable suffering. But, as Jesus has shown us, death and dying can be a holy time of mercy and forgiveness. Somehow, in some mysterious and wonderful way, the cross was transformed from an instrument of terror into a symbol of hope. 

He humbled himself, 
becoming obedient to the point of death, 
even death on a cross. 
Because of this, 
God greatly exalted him 
and bestowed on him 
the name which is above every name, 
that at the name of Jesus 
every knee should bend, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue confess to the glory of God the Father, 
Jesus Christ is Lord. 

-Philippians 2:8-11 

It is that hope in eternal life that I cling to. Ultimately, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ defines who I am and what I believe in. 


The Cross shines through the aftermath of the tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. 

* Disclaimer: I was a CCD kid and did not have a Catholic grade school education. However, I certainly heard enough parochial school stories from friends, and I attended Catholic schools from high school onward. And I did go to daily Mass at my parish during Lent when I was in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

“In the Zone” with Classical Music

I am a self-taught musician and performing classical music does not come naturally for me. After all, the Beatles are the inspiration for my musicianship. Sure, I learned to read notes in 3rd grade because I played flute in my grade school orchestra. But my passion for music didn’t really get ignited until John, Paul, George and Ringo took America by storm on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. 

Then came the Folk Mass. I took up guitar in high school and it was all about chords. I briefly played the organ for liturgy and I now appreciate the discipline of learning how to play what is actually on the printed music. But as my knowledge of music theory advanced, I started analyzing the chords of a classical or liturgical piece and played my own arrangement. This approach became even more pronounced in the 1990s after I studied jazz theory, with its emphasis on comping and improvising. But one cannot and must not improvise Bach and Handel – unless, of course, it’s a deliberate jazz realization of a classical work, as Grover Washington did with “Jesu. Joy of Man’s Desiring.” But that’s a whole other discussion.

This brings us to the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. Ten years ago, my parish music director thought it would be great for our choir to sing this iconic piece for Easter Sunday and our singers eagerly took up the challenge. Beverly, one of our sopranos, was also an accomplished concert pianist and I happily ceded the accompaniment to her while I helped plunk out the notes during sectional rehearsals. I’m proud to say that our choir learned to sing it beautifully. Alas, after a few years, Beverly moved away and I had no choice but to learn how to play this classical standard myself. 

Needless to say, Handel’s accompaniment is daunting for a rock and jazz pianist whose first performance in high school was a home spun rendition of Hey Jude. The page turning alone is intimidating, especially in the midst of playing through the piece at concert tempo. We used the traditional octavo with the old-school engraving, so when I flipped the page I had the hardest time finding my place – especially in the midst of performance where every second counts. As the Emperor famously said in Amadeus, “Too many notes!” 

Eventually, I created my own cut-and-paste accompaniment that removed the choral parts, so that helped. But there was no such shortcut to practice, and I spent hours upon hours playing through the “Hallelujah Chorus” with a metronome, slowly at first and then increasing the tempo to the recommended standard. My first Easter with this piece was passable; I wouldn’t exactly say I mastered it but it was good enough. Finesse wouldn’t come until a couple of years later. 

Some takeaways from this experience: 

1. It takes a serious personal commitment to master a classical song. A friend who is a concert pianist once told me that he spends a significant portion of his day in practice – four hours! In his youth, Lang Lang practiced six hours a day. That’s dedication!

2. There is an “in the zone” experience with classical music similar to what I’ve experienced in rock and jazz. Once I have mastered a song, I find it I can lose myself in classical performance just as I can during a rock jam. But I need to concentrate. I need to block out from my mind anything and everything except for the notes on the page. When I play rock music my mind can sometimes wander, but with classical music I can only think of what I am playing at the moment and nothing else. Without that depth of total concentration, I cannot play classical music effectively.

3. Handel was a genius!

Now excuse me while I go back to my piano and practice for Easter.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Bay Area Book Tour 2018: Going Home

Saturday, September 15 

All good things come to an end, sadly enough. This book tour was also my vacation time, and although giving concerts and lectures might seem like “work,” for me it was fun and relaxing, a change of pace from my regular routine at both my OCP day job and my weekend parish responsibilities. During this remarkable week, I was able to sell tons of books, do research at GTU library for my next books, visit my favorite city in the world (San Francisco!), eat in great restaurants, spend time with treasured friends, and meet new friends. 

Alas, it would soon be time to say goodbye to my friends, George the Dog and Steve the Cat. We had a couple of fun final days together, playing catch and just hanging out at the house. While I was counting cash and checks to deposit at the bank (a decidedly happy task), Steve kept hopping on top of my pile of dough. George just wanted to go outside and play. 

There were plenty of things to do around the house: laundry, cleaning up the boys’ mess of shredded shipping paper, and packing. It’s remarkable how animals can sense when a favorite human is going to leave them. Steve kept hopping into my suitcase as I tried to pack my clothes. Is that a universal feline instinct? George was moping with his head down on the floor. Animals know. 

Kevin and Siena weren’t returning until Tuesday so they arranged for another friend to take care of their pets after I left. As I wrote a note for her on the kitchen table, Steve hopped up and rubbed his head against my writing hand. I let him sit on my lap as he purred away. It was time to go to Oakland Airport and I summoned Uber. 

I sadly put Steve in the bathroom and then turned my attention to my moping George. As I sat on the kitchen floor to be at his level, he walked up to me and put his front paws on my shoulders, almost like a hug. Such a loving dog! He wasn’t making this easy. 

“Goodbye, Georgie,” I said with tears in my eyes as I gently patted his head. “I’ll be back. I promise!” After closing the front door, I waited at the porch for my Uber car. My heart was breaking as George whined and barked for me while he watched me though the front window. As my Uber car drove away from the house, I was crying softly. 

Animals are such a gift from God. I received so many blessings from this book tour but George and Steve made my stay in Danville especially fun and memorable. Thank you, Kevin and Siena, for letting me stay at your beautiful home and for sharing your beloved George and Steve with me. They touched my heart in an unexpected way and I am truly grateful.

“Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this Earth.” 
-Saint Francis of Assisi 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Bay Area Book Tour 2018: Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, CA

Thursday, September 13

On Thursday, I presented a lecture at the Jesuit School of Theology that is part of the consortium of ecumenical institutions of higher learning at the renowned Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California. It was the first week of the new school year. I had a handful of students, local pastoral musicians and, delightfully, members of a Catholic women book club who were eager to meet an author and discuss his book. 

If you’ve read From Mountains High then you know the historical significance of JST. 

The success of Neither Silver Nor Gold took the composers by surprise. With the blessing and support of their superiors, the five regrouped in Berkeley, California, during the summer of 1974 at Shalom House, the student residence of the Jesuit School of Theology. Tim had moved on from the Jesuits, but he wanted to come, and the others welcomed him with open arms. For the next five weeks, they would live together, pray together, and compose music. They did not have the goal of creating a new album. Their summer together was to be an extended retreat, a time to discern where the Holy Spirit was leading them. Neither Silver Nor Gold was a grace-filled confirmation that the gift of music was a seed that God had planted in them. Perhaps it was something they needed to pay attention to in a greater way… 
They bonded as seekers, as musicians, as brothers; and the Spirit blessed them with the inspiration to compose songs that would become an iconic part of the modern liturgical repertoire. 

So Shalom House was right across the street from the room where I was lecturing. I could see it from the window. After spending almost seven years of research, interviews and writing, to actually be at the hallowed ground where the St. Louis Jesuits composed “Be Not Afraid,” “Earthen Vessels,” “Sing to the Mountains,” and other iconic liturgical songs was nothing short of a thrill for me. 

I was still perfecting my Keynote software presentation and JST just unveiled its new media set-up for the school year. So we were a match made in heaven as assistant dean Paul Kircher and I scrambled to enable Bluetooth and wired connections between my laptop and their system. We eventually succeeded in getting everything working just ten minutes before our scheduled start! 

But the best connection might still be my acoustic guitar. Even with a smaller group, nothing matches the experience of singing those grand old songs and the memories they evoke. 

After the presentation, I enjoyed listening to personal stories from the folks who attended. Some of the women in that book club had great anecdotes of singing in folk choirs in the days of their youth. It’s this interaction with my public that makes book tours so rewarding. 

Grateful thanks to Paul Kircher, Assistant Dean of Students, and to Dr. Mary Beth Lamb for their gracious hospitality and warm welcome. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bay Area Book Tour 2018: Ken and Jesse at Holy Spirit Church, Fremont, CA

Wednesday, September 12

Tuesday was a day off for me. After a breakfast reunion in San Francisco with an old friend from Nashville who was visiting the Bay Area, I spent the afternoon at my favorite theological library in the country: GTU Library in Berkeley. I’m already doing research for my third and fourth books (!) and I happily got lost in the stacks, culling books and articles that will help ground the stories I want to tell. Can’t say much more on those projects yet, but more on GTU in the next blog. 

On Wednesday night I had a concert event with my buddy Jesse Manibusan at Holy Spirit Church in Fremont. Jesse is a true Catholic evangelist road warrior, bringing the Good News to parishes and communities all over the country and the world. But he rarely gigs at home in the Bay Area, so this was an opportunity for his local friends and large extended family to come and see him in action. They packed the church on a weeknight on the first week of school! 

A group of seminarians came from St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park and it was great to meet them. I also had a reunion with Amanda, a friend from St. Monica Parish who remembered me from when she was a child. She is now involved in music ministry herself. God is good! 

I have been performing with Jesse on and off since the 1990s, when we lived right down the street from each other in Alameda, California. We used to have a liturgy band that traveled to various Catholic high schools a couple of times a month to lead the students in their monthly school Mass. That was fun! We also did various youth ministry events for the Diocese of Oakland, but we really didn’t compose music together until he moved to Texas and I moved to Portland, oddly enough. After OCP released our Love Never Fails album in 2003, it seems like we spent a significant portion of that year sharing songs like “Fly Like a Bird” and “MC God” all over the country. 

It has been a delightful pleasure to collaborate with Jesse and watch him in action at events large and small. He has this unique way of engaging audiences across all generations but especially with young people as he calls them into deeper relationship with Jesus Christ through laughter, music and personal witness. Powerful! 

At Fremont, Jesse and I did our Fish With Me  concert set from when we toured together last year in support of our new album of the same name. For tonight’s show, he invited me to share a bit of my From Mountains High book presentation, and the crowd had a good time singing the songs of Ray Repp and the St. Louis Jesuits. Jesse’s cousin Rich filled out our sound with his skillful percussion. 

All in all, our Holy Spirit concert was indeed Spirit-filled. It’s always great to do music ministry with my brother Jesse, and I truly enjoyed meeting his relatives and circle of friends. Afterward, a group of us went out for sushi – of course!