Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best of A.D. 2008

1. Returning to Tennessee and family. (End of July) The final word is key. Because of family I found strength to leave a city, San Antonio, Texas, that had provided me healing & a new lease on life. Family gave me impetus & strength to move back to "the greenest State in the land of the free". Yes, indeed, "family" says it all!

2. Spending Christmas with family. (24-26 Dec.) Dear reader, NEVER underestimate the great value of being with family on any 25 December! I did underestimate it a few years ago; for my folly I got to live thru too many of the subsequent holidays solo. Oh sure, I had folks around me when I'd attend Christmas morning worship at San Fernando Cathedral or at Christ Church (Episcopal). However, I was still lonely. Blood IS thicker than water! I thank God for Xmas '08, in Clarksville with wife Ellen, son David & daughter-in-law Allison. Xmas with family! And Xmas Eve, too! The four of us topped off the all-day togetherness with a warm, intimate candlelight communion service at Grace Bible Church (Ellen's church).

3. Visiting Tennessee in mid June. This was to "test the water" re the move. Flying into Nashville's airport (i.d. letters BNA), and recognizing below me the stadium and lovely campus of our beloved Vanderbilt University (Ellen BA '76, me MA '88) led to unanticipated excitement. When Ellen, David & Allison picked me up at BNA, and we spent a couple of happy summer days together my resolve was sealed. Indeed I could hardly wait to make the permanent move back to Tennessee!

4. Labor Day with Ellen. When it looked like I'd be spending the holiday (1 Sep.) alone & doing less than nothing (job search halted due to holiday and no money for bus fare to elsewhere in the city), with no solicitation from yours truly she offered to drive to Nashville and spend it with me. We went shopping near Cool Springs Galleria (Brentwood area), ate at a nice Mexican restaurant in that area -- where the waiter actually made the guacamole at our table! --and cut a little rug in Nashville's famous Wildhorse Saloon. Very pleasant Labor Day date!

5. Lunch with daughter Sarah in Houston, Texas', Gallería. She works two retail jobs in that enormous and complex mall -- which should explain her absences from #2 & #3 above. But I'd chosen to drive the Penske moving truck from San Antonio to there on my way to Nashville, rather than a more direct route. Just to spend a little time with her prior to forsaking the Lone Star State.

6. Enjoying yesterday afternoon (30 Dec.) with Ellen, David & Allison. In this bitterly cold winter of Middle Tennessee, Tuesday the 30th was a rare pleasant AND sunny day. I met the trio at the Parthenon, and spent some time leisurely enjoying Centennial Park and its pond (close to the full-size replica of the Athenian temple). The pond was alive with geese and a few ducks. Then we toured the Upper Room Museum, Chapel and Bookstore. (For a description of the U.R. & the Chapel see my 15 Dec. posting.) Then we had supper at a Thai cafeteria in Waverly-Belmont, a very beautiful and mature neighborhood. The food was very tasty (this was my first essay into Thai cuisine), especially the crab rangoon!

7. "Behold the Lamb of God" concert at the Ryman (see post on 19 Dec).

8. Veterans Day (11 Nov.) Parade in Nashville. Closely connected with this is Operation Stand Down Nashville, where this Army vet found help in his need hour upon arrival here (actually a needy two months). So naturally I marched with the OSDN folks in the parade.

9. Vanderbilt University -- campus and football team. I made several visits to this lovely campus, beginning on Sat. 2 Aug. Just walking the familiar, woodsy campus will lift my spirits. And visiting with the fairly new chapter of my fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, was added joy. Now I didn't get to attend any Commodore football games, but I listened to or watched a few. In fact, it was while listening to the season opener at Miami (Ohio) that Ellen proposed the Labor Day date in #4 above. AND THEN just a couple hours ago I followed the final quarter of an exciting Music City Bowl 2008, as the 'Dores kicked a field goal to come from behind and then win 16-14 over Boston College!

10. Southwest Texas Emmaus 25th Anniversary Celebration (7-8 April), at Mt. Wesley Methodist camp in Kerrville.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Choir Fest, S. Duncan, Titans, etc.,etc. ...

The Fourth Sunday of Advent A.D. 2008 turned into quite some day. In many ways!

It all commenced when fellow ECC(DC) choir member Steve Walls picked me up at Mercury Courts on a bright, sunny, crisply cold early morning. We choir members arrived at the church early in order to practice for our "Choir Christmas Festival", so called in the church newsletter. Due to my work schedule I hadn't been at the two previous rehearsals, and so was unfamiliar with a couple of the half dozen or so pieces we'd be singing. I was most uncomfortable with the Bach's beautiful "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" with which we would commence, on the steps to the chancel before moving up into our pews. But Choir Director Julie Duemler worked out a solution so that I didn't have to sing that one, which I feared botching -- and I sure don't ever want to botch a Bach or the first song the Choir sings!

The musical worship service - or "Choir Christmas Festival" - turned out wonderfully! And worshipfully! Brief narratives set the stage and tone for each piece we sang (except the first two opening pieces). The children also had a part, and did their songs charmingly. For the offertory (passing the plates for the offering) Stuart Duncan and a musician buddy of his did an instrumental, he on fiddle and the friend on mandolin. Beautiful bluegrass praise! Truly we had quite melodious worship all thru'out at Eastwood Christian!

The hymn for communion was unfamiliar to me, but that didn't matter. The focus of the Lord's Supper, or Communion, is Jesus the Christ and remembering what He did for us in giving His body and lifeblood on Golgotha's cross. When you get down to it, not even the bread and cup (nor the table itself) should distract from such deep meaning as the Nazarene imparts to them!

Following Worship we adjourned to the Fellowship Hall for a Christmas dinner, complete with Christmastime desserts. And a visit from Santa for the young'uns. ECC(DC) has plenty of young'uns for the jolly fellow to meet!

But I was more interested in the opportunity to heap my plate with food and then sit down at table with Stuart and Dieta Duncan. The better I've gotten acquainted with this couple and the more I've experienced Stuart's artistry with the fiddle (and other instruments), the more I've wanted to know them even better! This was especially true after the previous Thursday's "Behold the Lamb of God" concert at the Ryman (see my post of 19 December).

I don't know, I sure hope that with all my questions I didn't come across as some wannabe "groupie" (or fan club applicant) for Stuart! But well, the guy IS very blessed with God-given musical talent! and he's recorded or performed with such personal favorites of mine as Rhonda Vincent and George Strait. And Stuart has a gentle and forebearing spirit that puts me at ease. When you get to the nitty-gritty he's simply an "ordinary Joe", a fellow church member that happens to be heavily involved in Nashville's great music industry as an artist. And I appreciate all of this about Stuart.

Well, once "Santa" had done his thing and the dinner had broken up Steve Walls gave me a ride to Music City Central. I watched a little of the NFL Titans game on the TV in the waiting room. They were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers just across the Cumberland River, in LP Field (formerly Adelphia Coliseum, a much more melodious name and more appropriate for a city known also as "The Athens of the South"). Then I got on board a bus and rode around western Nashville. Back at the MCC waiting room I reveled in the ending of the Titans' game. Our "hometown heroes" handily beat the Steelers 31-14 to not only salt away the regular season divisional championship but also the "ho-ho-home field advantage" as one fan's handmade poster read.

Several minutes following the game's ending my bus pulled out of MCC and headed south on Fourth Avenue. Past Ryman Auditorium and Broadway and approaching the new Schermerhorne Symphony Hall one can look left at the former Shelby Street bridge. Now a strictly pedestrian causeway, this bridge is a major route for game-goers to return to cars parked west of the Cumberland. All the way from MCC the sidewalks had been crowded with folk leaving the stadium. And when I looked left at that now pedestrian bridge, it was still teeming with humanity. Most folks were garbed in colors of the Titans (dark blue, light blue/grey, a little red). But I also observed plenty of apparel in the Steelers' black and yellow (gold). The Pennsylvania team certainly had a goodly share of supporters travel to this game. And they must have felt right "at home" in the frigid weather Nashville's suffering these days. It barely got above freezing today, and I sure was glad to not have been in LP Field!

You know, dear reader, such weather -- bright sunny yet crisp -- might just have been the appropriate climate for this memorable Fourth Sunday of Advent!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gettin' on board 'n ridin' the bus

No, dear reader, the title of this isn't that for some country song for which I'm writing the lyrics. This may be "Music City" but I sure didn't come to town, this time or the previous, to make it big in country music or any other musical genre. My talents don't go in that direction.

No, what I refer to with this title is that I attended my second meeting of the Board of the Nashville MTA. If you've read my earlier blog effort ("Glen Alan's San Antonio") you know that in San Antonio yours truly was a daily bus rider. Same here. And just as in my early days in the previous city I saw items for improvement in the city bus service and began attending MTA board meetings and voicing my concerns and compliments, so I'm doing here.

My first such meeting with Nashville MTA was back in October, just a day before the ceremonial opening of the new Music City Central city bus station. That meeting surprised me, due to the small size of the Board -- five members -- and the brevity of the meeting -- less than an hour. (San Antonio by contrast, seats over ten members on its Board and monthly meetings run over three hours.)

And then came that ceremonial opening of MCC, just as impressive as any such event I'd been to regarding VÍA MTA back in San Antonio. This ceremony to open MCC concluded with presentation of the winning jingle in MTA's contest to compose a promotional jingle. Listening to the creator do the new jingle actually got me "pumped up" about Nashville's city bus service (for the first time)! Only in "Music City" can one open something like this with a song written for the occasion!

Therefore, I was eager to attend the next Board meeting and give them my kudos. A major item on the Agenda was, of course, the opening of Music City Central. It being the December meeting (they skipped the Nov. mtg. due to no action items) there were holiday-type refreshments to the side, and a gift at each of the member's place on the table. One was opened at the end of the meeting: it held a glass crystal model of MCC! Any surprise about that?

I'm glad that as a citizen and bus rider I have these opportunities to present my compliments and concerns to the Nashville MTA authorities. However, it distresses me that at both meetings I was the only such citizen to be heard. I suspect that this low attendance is due to meetings being held in early afternoon of a week day, when most concerned riders will be at work. I'm only present due to having a second-shift work schedule. Oh, and also due to my having been a patron for six and a half years of VÍA in San Antonio. VÍA's being one of the very best MTAs in these United States gives me a solid concept of the ample room for improvement in public transit here.

However, my ardor for pushing strongly for major improvements in Nashville MTA is cooling due to several factors. 1) I realize that this transit company lacks fiscal dedication; that is, government funding doesn't have any amount automatically dedicated to it (thus MTA has to fight for every dollar it receives out of the government's budget). 2) I realize that Nashville is a much smaller metropolis than is S.A. 3) The smoothness of MTA Board meetings, and the impressive grand opening of MCC sway me toward more positive feelings about the bus service here.

So-o-o-o. . . I'm ready to simply get on board and try to be a happy rider!

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Behold the Lamb of God"

A benefit of living in Nashville and attending church in "Music City" -- a blessing, truly -- is that one encounters very talented musicians and singers all over the place. Including in the church one attends.

When my family and I belonged to Donelson Christian Church (Disciples) from about 1986-91, we became good friends with David and Melody Johnson. Occasionally the couple would do some special gospel song in bluegrass style during worship, she on upright bass and he on banjo or other instrument. They also performed at the Station Inn one night and I went to hear them in that well-known venue for traditional music.

Then, when I began attending and eventually joined Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) after my move back to Nashville at the end of last July there came a Sunday when a certain Stewart (spelled thus, I tho't) Duncan did a splendid solo on the fiddle. And my silent response to this was that this was great, it was just like the Johnsons back at DCC!


For one thing, his name is Stuart. He and his wife Dieta (rhymes with Nita) Duncan are active at ECC. He played more wonderful musical offerings at church, and they even invited members who had no other plans for Thanksgiving to have dinner at their home!

And then I read his name in association with an upcoming Christmas show to be performed in the venerable Ryman Auditorium. Well, Dieta got me tickets for it and I went with another ECC member last night to see "Behold the Lamb of God". Andrew Peterson created the concert and conducted the ensemble. And what an ensemble of singer-musicians! One of the pianists was Michael Card; I've known of him for years. His name alone interested me in the concert, even before I found out a certain fellow ECC church member would participate in this concert.

Speaking of whom, my companion to the concert mentioned that Stuart Duncan has won Grammies for his talent with the fiddle. (Later I found out that more correctly his band, Nashville Bluegrass Band, won them.) And indeed, whenever Stuart was out on stage sawin' away I felt my ears were blessed. My active memory-imagination kept bringing up fiddlers of my past: the fiddler on the roof, the fiddler in "A Homestead Album", a musical I was in in Crossville, Tennessee, the fiddler in Vince Gill's music video "Go Rest High on That Mountain", etc.

"Behold the Lamb of God" had a fantastic format. Before the intermission it was an Opry-style presentation of each performer in turn, doing a song or two. Some of these seemed to be setting the stage for the actual concert that would take place after intermission. Stuart's featured portion actually involved a young lady accompanying on mandolin, and was beautiful (as most bluegrass is). Shortly afterward there was a pianist (not Michael Card) whose playing while singing resembled Carole King's. A guitarist sort of broke from the tenor of the presentations to perform his own composition, a parody of "the perfect" country song. Now, dear reader, I who loathed the genre as a boy am now a die-hard fan of country music, and the more traditional the better. However, even I found the parody to be hilarious, and right on target (regarding stereotypical country song lyrics and arrangement)! I was almost falling out of my Ryman pew laughing! Later, Michael Card sat at the piano and not only played and sang a couple of his contemporary Christian songs, but invited us the audience to sing along on the chorus of the last song.

But the "magic moments" (to use the world's vocabulary) or "heavenly blessings" (for Christian vocab.) of pre-intermission were overshadowed in the actual BtLoG concert that followed. Most of the songs were by Andrew Peterson, and with minimal narrative between they gave a "jet tour" of Old Testament prophecies and events that foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, God's anointed Savior for His people. One song was a delightful take-off on all the "begats" that commence the Gospel according to Matthew. Otherwise, the singing and music reverently led up to the climax of Jesus' birth and the title song. The song "Behold the Lamb of God" is very moving, indeed, Dieta later told me that even after nine years of experiencing the concert she still wept Thu. nite during this profound song.

As for me, I considered, "How could anyone listen to this and go away not falling in love with Jesus?"

Neither the "ghosts" of the Ryman Auditorium -- evangelist Sam Jones for whom it was build, Captain Ryman who build it for this Billy Graham of the late 1800s, and such Opry stars as Hank Williams, Jim Reeves and Minnie Pearl -- nor the Christmas garlands nor the light show choreographed to the music succeeded in distracting me from the holy experience of BtLoG. My ECC companion likewise was blessed to share in this unforgettable concert. We both went away feeling very blessed to have been there for it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My "first" Nashville Emmaus gathering

Quick background: at the end of October of A.D. 1993 I was a "Pilgrim" on Walk to Emmaus (men's) #327, in Kerrville, Texas. It was an unforgettable experience of spiritual renewal. After moving to Tennessee in the middle of the next year I sought in vain to find an Emmaus Reunion Group to join in Clarksville, and I occasionally attended monthly gatherings of the Emmaus community in the Nashville area. But after I lost my job in Nashville my attendance at the gatherings ceased. Then while I was living in San Antonio for six and a half years I got re-involved -- very involved -- in Emmaus and then involved in its equivalent for inmates, Kairos Prison Ministry. Monthly I'd looked forward to the community gatherings, and weekly to the small group (Reunion) meetings.

I'm very desirous of continuing to participate in both Emmaus and in Kairos here in Nashville. Therefore, I was very eager to attend the monthly Nashville Emmaus gathering this past Saturday evening. I retrieved my lanyard (given on the third day of my pilgrim Walk), name tag (from Team service on Walk #1327) and the "purple book", the pocket-size booklet with a purple cover (but always covered over with an "agape-jacket cover") that each Pilgrim and Team member receives, from Team service on Walk #1005. And I tied on the Cursillo necktie that I had purchased at last April's 25th anniversary celebration of Emmaus in Southwest Texas. The necktie has many colors, and in white a cross silhouette and the words de colores, a Cursillo/Emmaus/Kairos slogan that in Spanish means "of colors" or "colorfully". I was to receive several compliments on it both at the Saturday meeting and at Sunday morning worship. Normally I wouldn't wear the Cursillo tie to church, but being at such a personally significant gathering the evening before prompted me to retain it for church.

A "bonus" of this month's gathering is that it was held at The Upper Room. More background: "The Upper Room" is a devotional periodical published in Nashville by the United Methodist Church. It's used worldwide by Christians of diverse denominational backgrounds (or no denomination), and among its language translations is the Spanish verison, El Aposento Alto. Yours truly has benefitted from the U.R. and E.A.A. for several years now. The devotional's staff is housed in a building by the same name on Grand Ave. in the Methodist administrative and publishing complex near Vanderbilt University. It was central to the creation of a variety of the Cursillo de Cristiandad renewal movement that omitted the distinctively Catholic elements and thus would be more ecumenical. Indeed, the first non-Catholic Cursillo community was originally called "The Upper Room Cursillo". Shortly the name became the "Walk to Emmaus".

So-o-o-o, having an Emmaus gathering at The Upper Room and using the chapel there for the worship portion of the meeting is highly significant! It's sort of like going back to your roots, you know.

First, we had supper downstairs in a species of fellowship hall. Each table held "de colores" bookmarks and a tiny Christmas tree centerpiece. Over to one side was a full-size Christmas tree decorated in purple and gold ornaments - thus this tree's dominant colors were those of my fraternity (Lambda Chi Alpha): purple, green and gold. And there was plenty of food. Plenty, just like at Texas monthly Emmaus gatherings! There was some addressing the entire group, but only a little, and no introduction of newcomers such as folk who might have just completed their "pilgrim Walk". That was unlike Texas Emmaus! However, there was plenty of intimate conversations around the various tables. My guess is we were about a hundred present.

Then we adjourned to go upstairs to the Upper Room Chapel. The chancel of this chapel features a full-size wood relief reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's famous fresco painting of "The Last Supper". Even the chancel's ceiling and walls imitate those in Leonardo's painting, and the "communion table" is an exact replica of the table around which are gathered Jesus and the Twelve. Other than that distinctive chancel area, the chapel is a typical place for Christian worship, complete with pulpit and stained glass windows. And like any good Methodist house of worship it also features an altar railing.

I was a bit surprised that the worship leader did not call for us to get out our "purple books". Among other contents these have an order of worship for Emmaus events. Instead we used an order of worship out of the Methodist hymnal. Oh, well, the Emmaus worship is derived from a Methodist worship order, just not the one that we used Saturday. So we didn't have the profession of faith that I like so much.

"We are not alone. We believe in God who has created and is creating. . . in life, in death, in life beyond death God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God."

Neither did we have a time for sharing prayer concerns and praises. And I truly missed that element! This definitely wasn't a monthly Emmaus gathering in Texas!

But oh, well! We still had a good "Fourth-Day Talk" (equivalent of a sermon) by a woman whose pilgrim Walk was this past Spring and who had then undergone cancer treatment. Hers was a very heartening testimony to trust in God and how truly "we are not alone!" And while we went forward for the Lord's Supper distribution, an Emmaus sister played a sweet medley of songs of praise on the chapel's piano - she'd also accompanied us on congregational songs. After receiving by intinction (removing a piece from the breadloaf and dipping it in the cup) each worshiper had a choice of returning to one's seat, kneeling at the altar railing or going up into the chancel to kneel at that remarkable reproduction of the table in "The Last Supper". I chose the latter. From where I knelt at the table's left end the carving of the Lord's face appeared to wear a slight smile, a benevolent visage.

Now, all during the supper and the worship I'd had my eyes on a middle-aged man, short and somewhat chubby, like me, with a pleasant face. I kept thinking I knew him - but then I'd dismiss it as that he probably resembled somebody I'd known in Emmaus or Kairos back in Texas. But it "happened" that I'd chosen to wear the cap I received as a volunteer for the Operation Stand Down event of this past October. When I returned to the dining hall to put on that cap and my overcoat, the gentleman approached me and began speaking about OSDN. It was then that I realized that he was Bill Burleigh, the Executive Director, whom I had met two months ago at the event!

Wow! Small world, I suppose! Bill and I had a brief but hearty conversation mostly about OSDN (and some about Emmaus) before I left to catch the bus home. And this was yet another bonus/blessing of my attending ths Emmaus gathering on Saturday night. Oh, and let's not forget that it being Saturday night I had my radio with me so that on the bus ride to the gathering I could listen to the Opry warm-up show and and on the way home to the Grand Ole Opry show. And it being so close to Christmas there was plenty of the flavor of this most-special holiday on the airwaves coming from the Ryman Auditorium. For about the past decade the Opry has been returning during the winter months to its former and most-famous home, the Ryman.

Yes, dear reader, this past Saturday evening was a blessed and memorable evening! In many ways!

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Memories of Opryland"

One thing that eased the move from my former "camping spot", i.e. San Antonio, to the present "camping spot" of Nashville was viewing it as a return to a former stomping ground. And indeed it's been sweet to see and be again in places that meant much to me during my earlier residence. (Even if some place names have been changed -- see my initial posting.)

Except that I shall never again see or be in one location of extra special significance. You see, dear reader, it no longer exists. It was Opryland.

Opryland USA (its full name) was a theme park originally built (early 1970s) to enhance the visit for folks traveling in from a distance to the Grand Ole Opry in its new home (successor to the Ryman Auditorium). Because the radio show was a musical one, the highlight of the park was not to be the rides or games or food, but the shows. Live music shows.

My first visit to Opryland was around 1978, and right away I fell for the place! I'd already been to Disneyland as a little boy, and to Six Flags Over Texas as a young adult when it was the only Six Flags park. Later I visited such theme parks as Busch Gardens (Tampa), Astroworld (Houston) and Sea World (Orlando and San Antonio). Plus Opryland's own spin-off in S.A., Fiesta Texas. Of ALL these theme parks, Opryland remained always my very favorite. Because of the live music shows!

In summer 1991 and again from holiday season '94 to end of '95 I worked as a ticket seller (admissions cashier) at Opryland USA, and from 1996 to '97 as tour coordinator for Grand Ole Opry Tours. The tour company's office was in a two-story plantation home-like building (we Opryland employees called it "the Big House") just outside the entryway to the park gates and the Grand Ole Opry House. During these periods of Opryland employment I stored up plenty of fond memories of my favorite theme park. Too many to share here!

All those fond memories came to vivid life again as I watched a special TV program done by and broadcast on Nashville's local PBS station. Sweet memories mingled with deep pain. It's a pain I've carried since Gaylord Entertainment Corp., the national umbrella organization that in the 1980s took over WSM and its Opry, the park, the hotel and all the rest, announced that it would close Opryland USA forever and replace it with a shopping mall. As if Nashville needed yet another mall!

The PBS show, "Memories of Opryland" was a fitting and I believe fairly accurate chronicle of a now-vanished institution that produced fun and entertainment for local youngsters and out-of-town visitors alike, plus provided employment for folk like yours truly and a starting place for many professional music performers. Indeed, country music star Chely Wright is one of the many former Opryland employees, managers and patrons interviewed during the TV program. Chely got her start as a performer in the park's country music show, which she credits with giving her a strong sense of the primacy of the audience (over ego). Listening to Chely and the others reminisce about their experiences at the park was so sweet, because they expressed almost exactly how I feel about the old place and the old job there. One fact of particular note (to me, at least) is that "experts" predicted that the park would draw no more than 500,000 or 600,000 visitors its first year -- and it actually hosted 1.2 million!

Best of all, without ignoring the rides and other elements that made Opryland "Opryland" the PBS show correctly asserted that the unique and primary element of this theme park was the live music shows. Six Flags (Over Texas) had its rides, Disney its animation -- and here in "Music City" was a park with LIVE music shows. Not live performers singing to recorded accompaniment, but live singers AND live musicians! This is exactly why Opryland USA was my fave, why I miss it so painfully and why I know it can NEVER be replaced. Not even if they tore down that infernal mall and tried to rebuild the park. It simply wouldn't be the same!

But my heartfelt thanks go to Nashville's PBS station for doing this show "Memories of Opryland" which captures the "musical magic" of once upon a time on the banks of the Cumberland River, in "Music Valley" (of "Music City") next to the "new" Grand Ole Opry House. Rest in peace, sweet music-filled memories!