A Song for All Saints’ Day


I sing a song of the cats of God,
Korat and Russian Blue;
Who purred and pounced, and chased their tails,
For the God who made them mew;

And one was a tabby, and one Siamese,
And one was an alley cat full of fleas–
They were all of them saints of God, if you please,
And I mean to be one too.


They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands more;
The Internet is full of cats,
That’s what it was invented for!

You can meet them on Facebook, in blogs or in tweets,
In shelters and homes and on the streets,
For the cats in my life showed God’s love to me,
And I mean to love them too.


(Top to bottom: My beloved Sidney, 1978; my mom Roberta’s Cat, 1973; my cousin Melissa’s Rusty, 1976; my grade school best friend Becca’s Snowball, 1982)

May the communion of feline saints receive Chloe, my friend Greg’s cat, who passed away last month.


Holiday Videos: “Joel the Lump of Coal” and More

It’s beginning to look a lot like…whatever winter holiday you celebrate! Here are some videos to get you in the mood.

This Hanukah song and dance medley is joyful and stylishly performed. I was almost certain I recognized the location as midtown Manhattan, but the YouTube credits say Daley Plaza in Chicago. No wonder I always felt at home in the Windy City.

Contemporary glam-rock band The Killers, better known for singing about obsessive love and murder, made this goofy yet ultimately profound video, “Joel the Lump of Coal“. This might be my favorite Christmas song of the year. I dislike the child-shaming moralism of the Santa myth, which has taken over a holiday that’s supposed to be about God’s forgiving and transforming love. The ending of this song made me think of Jesus’s words, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

Celtic folk band Nowell Sing We Clear performs their signature song “Chariots” in this video, a rousing welcome for the Prince of Peace. Lyrics by John Kirkpatrick below.

O Shepherd O shepherd come leave off your piping
Come listen come learn come hear what I say
For now is the time that has long been forespoken
For now is the time there’ll be new tunes to play
For soon there comes one who brings a new music
Of sweetness and clarity none can compare
So open your heart for the heavenly harmony
Here on this hill will be filling the air

With chariots of cherubim chanting
And seraphim singing hosanna
And a choir of archangels a-caroling come
Hallelujah Hallelu
All the angels a-trumpeting glory
In praise of the Prince of Peace

See on yon stable the starlight is shimmering
And glimmering and glistening and glowing with glee
In Bethlehem blest this baby of bliss will be
Born here before you as bold as can be
And you’ll be the first to hear the new symphony
Songs full of gladness and glory and light
So learn your tunes well and play your pipes proudly
For the Prince of Paradise plays here tonight

Bring your sheep bleating to this happy meeting
To hear how the lamb with the lion shall lie
It’s mooing and braying you’ll hear the song saying
The humble and lowly will be the most high
Let the horn of the herdsman be heard up in heaven
For the gates are flung open for all who come near
And the simplest of souls shall sing to infinity
Lift up and listen and you shall hear

The warmonger’s charger will thunder for freedom
The gun-maker’s furnace will dwindle and die
And muskets and sabers and swords shall be sundered
Surrendered to the sound that is sweeping the sky
And the shoes of the mighty shall dance to new measures
And the jackboots of generals shall jangle no more
As sister and brother and father and mother
Agree with each other the end to all war

As a candle can conquer the demons of darkness
As a flame can keep frost from the deepest of cold
So a song can give hope in the depths of all danger
And a line of pure melody soar in your soul
So sing your songs well and sing your songs sweetly
And swear that your singing it never shall cease
So the clatter of battle and drums of disaster
Be drowned in the sound of the pipes of peace

Murder Ballad Monday: Beatlemania Edition

We all remember those moments when a work of art opened our eyes and ears. Those “I didn’t know you could do that!” moments fill us with an uncontainable, restless excitement to respond in some way with a creative outpouring of our own, only we don’t yet have the words to express what we’ve encountered.

I felt that way when I first heard The Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” on my mother’s record player in the late 1970s. It was wicked, enigmatic, mesmerizing — a taste of adulthood’s forbidden knowledge. Since I still don’t understand the lyrics, it holds much of the same magic for me today.

My mother was a snob about popular music, for the most part. The Beatles were the only rock ‘n’ roll group she would tolerate among her LPs of Tchaikovsky and Broadway musicals. This made me a social outcast in middle school until I acquired my own portable radio in 1983, on which I listened secretly to Prince singing “Raspberry Beret”. Perhaps that’s why it took me until last year to figure out that “Octopus’s Garden” was a metaphor for the female anatomy.

This week, fans commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ American TV debut on the Ed Sullivan show. That makes me feel old, but this song makes me feel like a rebellious teenager all over again.

Murder Ballad Monday: Baby Jesus Edition

I recently finished Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, a superb historical mystery by Wesley Stace about British composers and music critics in the World War I era. The main characters are aficionados of folk ballads, traveling the countryside in the manner of the Brothers Grimm to record the “pure” versions of these oral traditions before the advance of modern technological culture sweeps them away. I’ve enjoyed combing YouTube and Spotify for recordings of some of the songs referenced in the novel.

One quirky and somewhat seasonal example is “The Bitter Withy”, which imagines young Jesus as rather a discipline problem for his longsuffering mother. You can read a plot summary, historical notes, and several versions of the lyrics at the Mainly Norfolk folk music site, a source that I expect to be mining for future posts. I like this performance by Lisa Knapp.

Wednesday Random Song: Macklemore, “Same Love”

Rapper Macklemore is best known for his comical music video “Thrift Shop”, which went viral this year. But it turns out his awesomeness goes way beyond an ode to my favorite pastime. His song “Same Love” provides the soundtrack for this heartwarming 7-minute movie in support of gay marriage.

And he wears your granddad’s clothes.

(Hat tip to blogger Dannika Nash. Read her post about why young Christians are leaving the church to stand on the side of love.)

Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Abuse in 2 Minutes (With Music!)

Forget Ariel, Belle, and Tiana. For me, the supreme Disney princess is Rapunzel from Tangled (2010). Underneath the lush colors and catchy songs, this retelling of the fairy tale is a profoundly serious and truthful depiction of a young woman’s escape from a cult-like family system.

From the IMDB summary: “After receiving the healing powers from a magical flower, the baby Princess Rapunzel is kidnapped from the palace in the middle of the night by Mother Gothel. Mother Gothel knows that the flower’s magical powers are now growing within the golden hair of Rapunzel, and to stay young, she must lock Rapunzel in her hidden tower. Rapunzel is now a teenager and her hair has grown to a length of 70-feet. The beautiful Rapunzel has been in the tower her entire life, and she is curious of the outside world. One day, the bandit Flynn Ryder scales the tower and is taken captive by Rapunzel. Rapunzel strikes a deal with the charming thief to act as her guide to travel to the place where the floating lights come from that she has seen every year on her birthday. Rapunzel is about to have the most exciting and magnificent journey of her life.”

A conventional kids’ film would have the villain accomplish her ends through showy displays of force and magic. Mother Gothel uses a more insidious method: professional-grade emotional abuse and brainwashing. Watch and learn, my friends:

In just two minutes, the song “Mother Knows Best” conducts a whirlwind tour of the techniques that an abusive parent, partner, or cult leader employs to isolate and confuse her victim. Notice how Mother Gothel interlaces apparent compliments (you’re precious to me, you’re too innocent and fragile for this dangerous world) with self-esteem destroyers (you’re clumsy, you’re naive, you’re not pretty enough to make it out there). Her lavish caresses are punctuated with subliminal flashes of menace–so quick, it’s almost possible for Rapunzel to block them out.

Dizzied by this personality-switching, Rapunzel feels uneasy and ashamed. Something doesn’t seem right, but it’s too scary to realize that her only caregiver doesn’t really care for her. Only later, when she finds an alternate source of support in Flynn, is she ready to recover her memories of her real identity and parents. (Yes, a kids’ film about repressed memories! How radical is that?)

Besides this song, I particularly love the scene where Rapunzel first escapes from the tower, aided by Flynn. Her mood swings are so true to the joy and self-doubt that an abuse survivor goes through when she begins to emerge from brainwashing. “I’m free! I’m free! I’m a terrible person. I’m free!”

Libby Anne, who blogs at Love Joy Feminism, has written eloquently about how Tangled resembles her upbringing in a Christian patriarchy cult. This film is validating for anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship, secular or religious. It’s also a great teaching tool to help your children recognize and avoid mind control.

Monday Random Song: “I Dreamed I Drove the Nails”

Oh, right, I have a blog? Apologies, constant readers, for the infrequent posting. I’ve been keeping my number-one resolution for 2013 to re-start work on the Endless Novel, as well as writing the occasional schmaltzy poem and nurturing the Young Master.

Since traditional children’s music makes me think of murderous clowns, I lean heavily on the Episcopal hymnal and Christian pop songs to entertain us while we are working on our pureed peas. Often, I wind up pondering and/or questioning the theology behind the catchy lyrics. From time to time, I will share these reflections with you, my blog followers. (You’ll have to get your own baby food, though. I recommend Earth’s Best chicken mango risotto.)

Today’s song is the Southern Gospel classic “I Dreamed I Drove the Nails“, performed in this YouTube clip by Greg Treadway and Andy Price. In it, the speaker recounts his vivid dream of crucifying Christ, which brought home to him how great a sacrifice Jesus made for his sins. Episcopalians will be familiar with this theme from the Lenten hymn “O Sacred Head“.

I’ve always struggled with this thought-experiment of identifying with Christ’s killers. I can appreciate the need to reflect on the seriousness of my sins and the magnitude of God’s mercy. This terrible limit case — God would even forgive us for killing Jesus — shows that no sin is beyond repentance. Such a hope can lead us out of self-involved despair and into true transformation.

On the other hand, I grew up in a home where emotional manipulation reigned, where I as a child was blamed for an adult’s depression and psychosomatic illnesses, in order to control my behavior and reinforce my gratitude for her so-called unselfish love. It is hard to feel the difference, sometimes, between “I Dreamed I Drove the Nails” and the stereotypical “guilt trip”. Why does God’s goodness require my self-abasement as contrast?

As I have become more attuned to abuses of power within Christianity, my understanding of Jesus has become more this-worldly and political. Now, songs like the ones above also make me wonder: Shouldn’t we focus on our actual sins and their real victims instead of a thought-experiment about something that never literally happened?

If the “real” wounded party is Christ, and lucky us, he forgives us, we may neglect making amends in the real world. This thought-experiment carries the potential for self-aggrandizing, self-pitying guilt that puts the sinner rather than the victim at the center of the story. Identification with the perpetrator then becomes a dysfunctional way to cement the Christian community’s bonds, like a gang where one has to murder someone to be a member.

Why not imagine one’s self into other roles in the story, like Veronica and Simon who tried to help, or Peter who cut off the soldier’s ear? Or, maybe one hasn’t actually done anything nearly as bad as crucifying Christ. “Sin inflation” creates a false moral equivalence that prevents the church from taking abuse seriously. It instills excessive guilt in people who then can’t speak up about wrongs done to them.

As I remember it, St. Paul exhorts us to imagine ourselves as crucified with Christ, a lot more than he recommends the perspective of the crucifiers. And when he does the latter, it’s because he actually did persecute and kill Christians, and was forgiven by his human victim, Stephen, not only by God.

I would love to hear from my readers about where the “I crucified Christ” trope originated. Is it Biblical? Where do you find support for it in Scripture?

Not Your Average Christmas Videos

This Christian puppet-show takeoff on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” wins the 2012 Reiter’s Block award for best holiday video. Hat tip to John Shore.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know there was a Reiter’s Block award for holiday videos? Well, send in your suggestions and maybe you will win fabulous prizes. Or eternal damnation. Depends on the video.

In case you’re more in the mood for a Blue Christmas, I’m re-posting this video by The Pogues. There’s a certain kind of sadness that one can enjoy in New York City, and “Fairytale of New York” expresses it perfectly.

Saturday Random Song: Mark Schultz, “What It Means to Be Loved”

Last night I was listening to the Christian pop channel on Slacker Internet radio while feeding baby Shane, and this song brought tears to my eyes. Parenting has compelled me to slow down and appreciate the present moment, because that’s the only kind of time that my baby knows. Like the lilies of the field, he doesn’t worry about tomorrow, as far as I can tell. As for me, there’s so much I can’t control or foresee, from “when will he wake me up next” (predictably, sometime between 2-4 AM) to “what kind of person will he become” (our goal is “happy and not evil”). As the song says, love means savoring the mere fact of his existence, right here and now.

Sunday Non-Random Song: Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All”

I was grieved to learn today that pop diva Whitney Houston died this weekend, at the young age of 48. Sadly, like many brilliant performers, she struggled with addictions and unhealthy relationships.

Her hit song “The Greatest Love of All” was a favorite anthem of mine in the 1980s. The theology of this song may offend some Christians, as too redolent of the “cult of self-esteem”, but personally I believe that you can’t hate yourself and love God at the same time. He made you, didn’t He? Was He wrong? Accepting yourself as lovable is a necessary part of believing that God loves you, not merely as an idea but as a lived psychological reality. Also, a certain amount of self-love protects you against making an idol of religious teachers, who can be a great help in proper perspective, but shouldn’t substitute for your own knowledge of God inside. Sometimes the Spirit will “lead you to a lonely place” where you must “find your strength in love”.

Sending God’s love to you, Whitney, wherever your soul’s journey takes you…