Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving thanks in Music City

Yesterday we of these United States observed Thanksgiving Day. The holiday has long been one of my favorites, due to its not being commercialized (yet), and to my desire to cultivate the habit of an attitude of gratitude.

While I was living in San Antonio I had some terrific experiences on Thanksgiving Days. Indeed, at least one of my blogs in A.D. 2006 specifically described a San Antonio-style Thanksgiving.

But that was then, this is now, and the Nashville Thanksgiving of A.D. 2008 is memorable in its own unique ways.

To begin with -- "begin" quite literally -- I went to church for breakfast. That's right! Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) held a breakfast in the church fellowship hall, serving at 8:00 AM. I actually arrived early, as soon as I could get there by bus (Nashville MTA ran a "Sunday" schedule). I intended to assist with cooking and set-up. However, even at the early hour (half past six) over a half dozen members were already at the church. Therefore I didn't get to help much, and spent most of the time sitting and drinking coffee while chatting and getting better acquainted with a couple members who likewise had done all they could. The food was de-e-e-licious, and the meal concluded with a brief Thanksgiving worship led by Pastor Jay Hartley and pianist Marie Pierce.

Returning to my lodging at Mercury Courts I went to the community room to watch the Thanksgiving Day NFL game between the Titans and the Lions at Detroit. Our Titans looked great as they whipped up on the home team. Too bad the game wasn't here, so we could enjoy the post-game fireworks lighting up the Nashville sky!

Then I went to work for four hours at Signius. We who work the holiday are assigned just four hours but get paid for eight (i.e., we get double-pay). I cannot complain about such an arrangement. . . just give thanks!

Isn't this what the Day is about?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bad football weekend for the gridiron "homies"

No, dear reader, I'm not using "homies" in its current slang usage (where it signifies fellow gang members). It's shorthand for "hometown team(s)" -- the hometown being my again-hometown of Nashville.

Nashville's "big three" post-high-school football teams suffered a truly bad weekend this past weekend.

What a change a couple of months makes! These three gridiron teams -- Tennessee State Tigers, Vanderbilt Commodores and NFL Titans -- began the 2008 season in fine fashion! Indeed, as these teams went into the final weekend of September they were still undefeated. I sent out an e-mail on the 29th of that month that expressed it this way:

I've not been able much to follow high school football here as I did in S.A. It's hard en'uf just to learn from the newspaper whether either of two high schools at which I've taught in the past are doing well in football. However,I've kept up with "higher-level" football quite well, thank you very much. And what a pleasant surprise! This past Friday's local daily's front page (not front sport section, but FRONT page) captured the sensation well: "A City of Winners". Just below this headline in scoreboard-lights fashion was the tale. Going into this past weekend the Vanderbilt Commodores were 4-0, the TSU Tigers (a historically black university in Nashville) were 4-0 and the NFL Titans 3-0.

That final weekend of September TSU lost and Vanderbilt was idle, but the Titans won. So things still looked excellent for football success in Nashville in early October.

But not this past weekend. TSU lost at Murray State. The other two teams played at home -- thus were truly "homies" (again, not in the gang-slang sense). But alas! Saturday afternoon I watched on TV as the Commodores lost 10-20 to the Vols from Knoxville. I'm sure glad I didn't brave the early winter chill to try to attend the game at Dudley Field on the Vandy campus!

Then Sunday afternoon I watched much of the televised Titans' home game against the NY Jets and their notorious quarterback Brett Favre (pronounced "farve", rhyming with "starve"). "Notorious" because after my move to Nashville at the end of July a major sports news item for days was this Favre fellow being at the Green Bay Packers training camp. I couldn't remember anything about him that might make him so newsworthy. This says less about Mr. Favre and his abilities than about my lack of interest in the NFL while I resided in a city without an NFL team. (San Antonio is surely the largest metropolis in these United states that lacks an NFL team.)

Well, Mr. Favre got traded to the Jets by the Packers. Again BIG sports news, and again I wondered, "Why? Who is this guy?" I did sort of figure out that Favre must have announced retirement at the end of the '07 season, and that he was a talented quarterback. Certainly as the '08 season progressed, he seemed to be an asset to his new team there in the Big Apple!

And Favre looked pretty flawless against my "homies", the Titans, on TV yesterday afternoon! The Favre-led Jets made the team that came into the game the only still-undefeated NFL team look like high school jayvees. Nashville's "boys" lost 14-34.

A truly bad weekend for the "homie" teams here in Nashville.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


My first posting for my previous blog, "Glen Alan's San Antonio", carried a title that included "Spud". It refers to the state of my raising, Idaho. Actually, when I first moved to Fort Worth, Texas, I had a job on the TCU campus where I quickly earned the nickname "Spud".

Two Sundays ago I was in the Green Hills area for Sunday dinner following a tremendous worship at Eastwood CC, and I went in to browse a Davis-Kidd Bookstore in the mall. As my eyes scanned the shelves and display tables, my attention got caught by a book of the same title. "Spud". I picked up the book and read that it was a novel by John van der Ruit. Also, I saw at once from the cover illustration that the title is the name of the protagonist. I turned over the book to read the summary on the back. At once I burst into prolonged laughing. Think "LOL"!

The reason for my hilarity is that after a couple of very short sentences describing the state of the world at the time of the novel's story line, it describes the protagonist as a "prepubescent choirboy." The ONLY time I've EVER encountered such a description for a person is when I first was getting acquainted with my wife-to-be, Ellen, at TCU. She called me her "prepubescent choirboy!"

Now please, dear reader, do NOT think the novel is an autobiography of yours truly! It's set in circa 1990 South Africa, taking the form of a diary (or journal) by a teenage resident of a boarding school in that country. I've never even been in South Africa, or in a boarding school there or anywhere!

But that "prepubescent choirboy" description of the protagonist certainly caught my attention. I've already checked out the novel from the Nashville Public Library for reading. I anticipate LOL in full!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Awesome worship in East Nashville

In my previous post I mentioned that yesterday was the first preaching Sunday for Pastor Jay Hartley of Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), my current home church congregation. The past several months, while Pastor Jay has been on sabbatical, the "senior" pastor has been, in effect, Michael Lehman. He's still a student (MDiv) at Vanderbilt Divinity School. He actually preached only twice since I began attending the church. ECC has plenty of other folk capable of filling the pulpit for a Sunday. These include an intern, Steven Gower, also a Disciples student at VDS, and a hospice chaplain and Belmont University religion professor, Gene Lovelace, who teaches the Sunday School I attend.

As I mentioned, Michael has only preached twice in my Sundays at the church. The last of the two was Sunday the Ninth, with Pastor Jay sitting in the congregation (his official first day back at work being Monday). Michael gave a simply marvelous message that opened the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). So I was thinking that Pastor Jay had a "hard act to follow" in getting back into the pulpit yesterday. But I said nothing to him, not wishing to put pressure on him.

Well, Pastor Jay's message, "Leaving Solitude", using Matthew 16:14-16 as text, was itself simply marvelous! He shared some of what he went thru on his sabbatical. This had two major phases to it, a visit to a monastery in Kentucky to explore the spiritual life, and a visit to the Holy Land and Egypt. Lucky dog! In the sermon he focused on the first phase, the monastery visit, and how it enriched his understanding of the spiritual or contemplative life, and of its integral relationship with daily living in this humdrum, out-of-kilter world. I felt as blessed by Pastor Jay today as I'd felt blessed by Michael's sermon a week earlier!

But that was just ONE element in a truly AWESOME Sunday worship at ECC! Choir director Julie Duemler gave the children's time message, which was about the exciting beauty of autumn-colored trees and other joys of God's creation that we can miss if we hurry along in living. There were not one but two special songs, one a vocal and guitar duet to conclude Pastor Jay's sermon -- it was an Amy Grant song unfamiliar to me but that the pastor felt summarized what he was seeking to get across -- and then during the offertory a song "Jeremiah" performed by a quartet that included young Michael Lehman on percussion (conga) and the same lovely vocal as on the duet: Dieta Duncan.

The choir's own anthem was a gorgeous song of praise, "Look at the World", with sections for women's voices, sections for men's voices and four-part harmonious refrains. I'd loved it from the first time we practiced it. But when we actually sang it during the worship I almost felt lifted up off the floor by the glorious sounds!

Praise be to God our Creator and Daddy indeed! Hallelujah!

Vanderbilt, a squirrel and a win!

Friday last (the 14th) was son David's birthday, and I did phone him a "happy birthday".

I also made a customary trip to Operation Stand Down Nashville, for coffee, local phoning (so as to not run up minutes on my cell) and computering. The latter being inaccessible due to the computer lab being closed, I chose to ride the city bus over to Vanderbilt University, my dear Masters-level alma mater.

Generally I use one of the bank of terminals on the main floor near the main entrance to the Central Library. But since I came from the bus stop on the street I entered thru the lower-level Divinity School Library (also housed in the C.L. building). As I walked along, headed for the stairs up to the main level, I espied an unused computer terminal, and considered, "Why should I go upstairs when there's a terminal right here?"

I should have kept going.

You see, dear reader, when I sought to use the computer terminal I found out that it didn't have a mouse. It had a squirrel -- or perhaps more accurately imprisoned a squirrel!

Whenever I tried to move the arrow/cursor/pointer to the specific point it needed to be for me to key and enter a word or words, or to click on a specific point, whenever I got the cursor close to that desired spot on the screen -- the doggone cursor would suddenly jump to another spot on the screen! Or even clear out of view! I would somehow gain control -- I tho't -- over the cursor and get it moving toward that desired spot again. And again it would suddenly jump to another spot on the screen.

Arrrgh! Frustrating! Time-consuming! See why I say that the terminal in question didn't have a mouse but rather a squirrel?

To make this even more amusing is the fact that the Vandy campus is home to plenty of the furry, bushy-tailed critters. There are photos of the rodents all thru my wife's Vandy annuals from her undergrad days there. And I saw plenty of them, and probably tried to feed them a time or two, during my grad school days on this venerable, woodsy campus. Ah-h-h-h! the memories! I love squirrels, it's true. But please keep them OUT of the computer terminal I happen to be endeavoring to do word processing or Internet work on!

Continuing the focus on Vanderbilt, the Commodores played a football game Saturday night, against SEC foe University of Kentucky, in Lexington. Our gridiron men were suffering a four-game losing streak, after an unprecedented five-game season-opening win streak. So I chose to listen to all of the Grand Ole Opry instead. And Saturday's show was terrific to listen to, with Diamond Rio and other talented acts on the stage of the Ryman.

Next day at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) Pastor Jay Hartley preached his first sermon since returning from sabbatical (see next post). Toward the back of the church (the main entrance) I saw a young man wearing, as he had before, a black shirt with a solid gold necktie. Following Worship I approached him and commented on the garments and their colors as being Vandy's, and then asked if he knew how the 'Dores did in Lexington.

"They actually won," he replied. Which indicated that he, like yours truly, had pre-game fears that the losing streak might continue. My response to this unexpected good news was to thrust my right fist high in the air with a hearty "Yes!"

I then took the bus out to the tony Green Hills neighborhood south of the campus. A Kroger grocery store there features a terrific salad bar and an eating area with two big TV screens. It's a swell place to do Sunday after-church dinner if all I have for fiscal resources is my food stamp card! While there I saw that the Sunday edition of the Tennessean newspaper had a blurb about the Commodores' victory near the top of the front page. It announced that due to this, their sixth win of '08, they become bowl-game eligible!

Wow! Now, if the Vandy eleven can just beat their next opponent, the stinking Vols from Knoxville!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comparing two beloved cities

My earlier blog celebrated San Antonio, Texas, and my life there. This blog celebrates my new hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. I actually lived here before, from 1984 to 1991. And of course I lived in Devine outside San Antonio for a couple of years. So I've had two opportunities to absorb the pluses and minuses of both metropolises. Here I'd like to compare and contrast two cities dear to my heart.

I. Both are definite urban metropolises, huge and sprawling. . . yet still somehow, some way possessing a "feel" of a small town.

CONTRAST: San Antonio is by far the larger urban entity (seventh largest in these United States) and yet the "small town" feel is a bit stronger there - for me at least!

II. Both have diversified economies, in which tourism is the the #1 (or at least #2) contributor. Both also have major medical facilities.

CONTRAST: San Antonio, which began as a mission with a protecting fort, has a major military presence, while Nashville is the state capital of Tennessee and has lots of governmental offices.

III. Both are great entertainment centers. After all, I call San Antonio the city whose middle name is "Party" and Nashville is "Music City, USA".

IV. Both are on a river and exist because of that river, whatever other factors played in their founding and growth. (This is also true of the city of my raising, Boise.)

V. Both have in their center (downtown) a famous and historic building, key player in the tourism mentioned in II above. And both buildings were built for evangelism and then later converted to secular purposes. In San Antonio the said building is The Alamo, which began as Mission San Antonio de Valero, where Franciscans converted the native Coahuiltecan tribes to civilization and Christianity (before the mission was abandoned and then converted into the fortress that played such a key role in Texas Independence). In Nashville the said building is the Ryman Auditorium, which began as Union Gospel Tabernacle that Capt. Tom Ryman had constructed for Sam Jones, the Billy Graham of the late 1800s (later renamed in memory of the Captain at the evangelist's urging, it served as the largest venue in town for traveling operas and other entertainments and then the best-known home of the world's oldest live radio program, the Grand Ole Opry).

Such are the remarkable similarities -- and a few remarkable differences -- of two cities that have meant much during the course of my life. May you, dear reader, find meaning in one or both of them. And meaning and endearment in the place where you live. Most of all, may you find the true meaning of life, which is unconditional and self-denying love for the others, and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Veterans Day in Nashville

Yesterday I participated in the Veterans DAY Parade in Nashville. I emphasize day because it was on the REAL holiday rather than the Saturday previous, and even underlined the REASON for the date, by having the parade commence at 1100 hours. (For the history-challenged, it was originally called "Armistice Day" and celebrated the signing of the armistice that ended the "war to end all wars" or WW I, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918!)

Marching down Broadway toward the downtown heart of "Music City" was a personally very moving activity. Especially when folks on the sidewalks applauded, cheered and waved flags. Since I served for only three years and in peacetime I felt I hardly deserved to be applauded and cheered. Such honor belongs most to those men (and women also now) who bore the horror and sacrifice of combat times! Still, I didn't refuse or repress the sense of pride that came over me, and that this might be as close to a moment of fame or stardom as I will get in this life. After all I did my duty to my country; thank God it was in peacetime! I marched with others from Operation Stand Down Nashville. This organization aids and assists area military vets with job placement, housing, clothing, food stamp sign-up, bus passes, etc. Yes, OSDN helped me a lot when I arrived here, back in early August.

And I'm grateful. Which I displayed a month ago by being a volunteer at the sixteenth annual Event "Operation Stand Down". This activity combines sheltering, assisting, feeding, clothing and entertaining and honoring a few hundred needy and especially homeless vets.

Back to the Parade. We of OSDN were rather far back in the line of participating groups and elements. The marching band from Whites Creek High School stepped into the parade route just behind us; they provided music for us to move along to. I almost hesitate to say that we "marched", because few of us were moving in cadence -- even the cadence supplied by the band from WCHS. And when earlier I said "down Broadway", I was being quite literal! From the crest on which stands the Estes Keefauver Federal Building, this major thoro'fare of Nashville descends rather steeply and steadily to the bank of the Cumberland River. I'm sure glad we weren't marching in the opposite direction!

Mother Nature didn't cooperate for the parade. It rained on the parade, sort of. I'd actually carried my rain poncho to the parade, but never took it out despite the very slight drizzle. What I did wear included a necktie of American flag motif my San Antonio best friend Joe Tovar gave me last year, and a sweatshirt from the US Army Chaplain School. One of the OSDN fellows (I believe he's recently become a volunteer staff member) looked sharp in his Class A's -- the green dress uniform that is the equivalent of a civilian business suit. I told him that if I felt I could still fit into it, which I certainly cannot, I'd have worn my Class A's.

The drizzle started to become more true raindrops toward the parade's end. But as soon as the final unit arrived at the route's end, the sun peeked out! Yes indeed, Mother Nature wasn't cooperative! But I don't care; it was great to participate in the Veterans Day Parade, anyway. Rain or shine! God bless America!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Music of Music City (Verse 1)

The city that's my new "camping spot" on life's journey, Nashville, Tennessee, boasts not one but three nicknames. I'll get to the best-known in a moment. But first let's look at the older two monikers.

The first nickname of the state capital city was "Athens". Nowadays in full it's "The Athens of the South" but recently I read that its first use in the early Nineteenth Century was "Athens of the West". You see, "the South" hadn't even been conceived quite yet, but "the West" was a huge idea in the national psyche. Anyhow, the "Athens" aspiration got visual illustration during the Tennessee Centennial in 1897. (They delayed the party a year -- I suppose these Tennesseans could have taken lessons in partying from San Antonio, where "Fiesta" was already over five years in the running!) The visual arose as one of the buildings erected for the Centennial. a full-scale reproduction showed The Parthenon as originally built on the Acropolis. It was so popular with Nashvillians that the building was retained after the Centennial, while the remainder of the grounds became Centennial Park. A few decades later it was rebuilt with more permanent materials.

In addition to the reproduced and restored Greek temple, Nashville by the end of the 1800s served as home to numerous colleges and universities. Probably the most renown is Vanderbilt University, founded in 1873 "on the city's western border" as the alma mater song goes. The campus lies just across West End Avenue from the afore-mentioned Centennial Park. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, related by marriage to a local Methodist bishop who endeavored to found a church-related educational institution, gave $1,000,000 of his vast fortune to make the bishop's dream viable. The Commodore envisioned the university as a strong link between the "sections of our common country", that is, reuniting these United States following the devastation of the War Between the States and the evils of Reconstruction. And Vanderbilt has indeed become a widely-known and academically-acute school, drawing students from all over. Including yours truly, who earned a Masters degree there in 1988.

Another renown and very historic campus here -- older even than Vandy -- is Fisk University. Founded shortly after the War for the education of the now-freed African-Americans, Fisk struggled financially until its choir, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, began traveling, singing and raising funds. That they sang well and beautifully is attested by lovely Jubilee Hall on the campus. Is it not appropriate that in "Music City" a singing group had such an impact?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. That nickname came to be much later. Oh, and just so you will know, dear reader, there are yet other universities in Nashville -- state-run, church-affiliated and independent. Leastwise, Vanderbilt is independent, cutting ties with the Methodists about a century ago. In addition to The Parthenon and the universities the "Athens of the South" aspiration found expression in symphony and other cultural arts. For example, the Nashville Public Library is a fine institution for literary perusal. Like many public buildings of all ages in this city, the fairly new central library is contained in a Greek-style building. The State Capitol, built before the Civil War and in my opinion the most distinctively beautiful of all fifty capitols, likewise includes classical Greek adornment. It sports columns in both Ionian and Corinthian orders. All these Greek-architecture edifices, especially those downtown, give us a very Athenian appearance!

The other very old nickname for Nashville is the "Buckle of the Bible Belt." This derives from the city being headquarters for several denominations or divisions of denominations, and home to various religious publishing houses. The United Methodists, for example, in addition to their bishop, have their agency headquarters here, their publishing house, and The Upper Room, a devotional periodical that yours truly has used regularly for several years. My own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has regional headquarters here, and a Disciples of Christ Historical Society, which preserves the history of all three denominations that arose out of the Restoration Movement of the early 1800s. (The other two are the non-instrumental Churches of Christ and the independent Christian Churches.) Both the Southern Baptists and the National Baptists, an African-American denomination, have their publishing houses here, too.

So Nashville has plenty of education, culture and religion. And of course, lots of music!

As soon as I arrived here in Nashville at the end of this past July, I began listening again to one of the most famous radio stations in the world, WSM-AM 650. It's the home station of the oldest continuously-broadcast live radio show, the show that made country and Western music famous: The Grand Ole Opry.

The Opry was merely one, and not even the most popular, of several "barn dance" shows broadcast in the early decades of the new medium radio. However, the others faded away after WW II and the advent of television. WSM and its Opry hung on, due in part to Opry star Roy Acuff, "the King of Country Music", teaming up with songwriter Fred Rose to found a music publishing firm, first of many in this city. Musicians and popular singers began to record in various parts of the city, and the recording and publishing coalesced onto Sixteenth Avenue South (and parallel 17th Ave. So.) by mid-1900s. This neighborhood came to be called Music Row. And by that time someone had coined the third and now best known nickname of "Music City, USA".

I suppose I must confess that for one who enjoys reading and learning, is deeply and actively spiritual, and daily thrives on listening to recorded songs on the radio or CD and occasionally attends live music events or picks his old guitar and sings the songs he loves, this city of Nashville may just be "the best of all possible worlds"! May it be likewise for you too, dear reader!

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Note of a New Song

Howdy, readers one and all! Welcome to "Music City, USA!"

My earlier endeavor at blogging was called "Glen Alan's San Antonio"; it journaled my residence in that enchanting Texas city and my responses to the things that make San Antonio "San Antonio."

But that was then -- pre end of July. This is now -- and I've moved to Tennessee. It wasn't a smooth landing here in Nashville. I spent two months jobless and a week technically homeless. However, those things are also past. Having dealt with such distraction as job search I can concentrate on the city that is my new camping spot on the journey of life!

It's different from the old camping spot, back there in Texas. And yet similar in some notable ways. I shall go over these in a soon-to-be posting.

Right now I want to emphasize that I’m BACK in Music City. My family and I actually lived here from September of 1984 to July of 1991. Then we moved out of state, and then to Clarksville, 50 miles to the northwest. During the Clarksville sojourn I worked off and on at Opryland. And during the prior residence in Nashville I earned a Master's degree at Vanderbilt University.

So-o-o-o, my first posting on this new blog site expresses how good it is to be back in "the greenest state in the land of the free"! And how startling to see some of the changes in Nashville during my absence.

The first startle was over all the name changes of prominent places. What WAS the Adelphia Coliseum where the NFL Titans play and where I experienced my only Billy Graham Crusade is now labelled "LP Field". Ho hum! What WAS the Nashville Arena and then the Gaylord Entertainment Center where I experienced the latest of four Promise Keeper events is now the Sommet Center. Almost another "ho hum"! What WAS the Cumberland Science Museum (much, much earlier and in another locale the Childrens Museum) is now the Adventure Science Museum.

Truly I'm surprised that Nashville hasn't renamed the Grand Ole Opry, too!

Then there is all the new x-rated statuary. A couple of these (one or two on the Vanderbilt campus) are too small to bother with, but one is prominently stationed at the head of Music Row (Demonbreun Street and Sixteenth Avenue). Standing in a traffic circle is a sculpture of several over-size naked and anatomically-correct men and women. Their bodies and limbs are a swirl of activity (if one can speak of "activity" re the motionlessness that is statuary). As the buses and cars are forced to circle around this monstrosity, the viewer gets a distinct impression that the sculptor was endeavoring to capture a snapshot of a Greco-Roman bacchanal. Or a modern-day "gang-bang". Kind of disgusting, if you ask me.

Another startling change is the deterioration of city bus company or MTA in the twenty or so years since I last patronized it. And often I'm the only non-African aboard. Indeed it's clear that Nashville now has joined the ranks of such African-majority cities as Detroit, D.C., New Orleans, and Memphis.

I'll need to get adjusted to being surrounded, not by a sea of bronze/bronce chicanos as in San Antonio but by a sea of chocolate faces. This will be interesting! Will I come to enjoy reggae as much as I enjoy conjunto? Or chitterlings as much as tacos? We shall see. . . .