Gentle on My Mind

I lack formal training in music other than a disastrous attempt to learn the clarinet in school. Or should I say, I was very successful at not learning the clarinet. Most of my music education came from having older siblings introducing me to music that would have been foreign to most of my friends. My brother and sister-in-law even took me to Woodstock (OK, not the festival – the movie at the drive-in theater). Woodstock was enriching even in the movie version. It combined great music with formal education (WHAT’S THAT SPELL!!!!!) Contains explicit language and a dose of patriotism by ending the show with the National Anthem. Alongside my training in Rock Music, our home had a steady diet of “variety shows” playing on TV (e.g. Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, etc.). Add to this the protest songs I learned at summer camp and music became one of the great joys and learning experiences of my life. 

At one point, I started listening to Glen Campbell. For a short time, he was one of my favorites. I know that may not sound as cool as Woodstock, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jimi Hendrix, but I have fond memories of Campbell’s music. So, I was thinking the other day: I should listen to a couple of Glen Campbell’s songs again. Are they as good as I remember them? I listened, did a bit of research, and began to realize what an amazing guitar player Campbell was. As part of my brief exploration, I also came across an TV interview with Alice Cooper — yes that Alice Cooper – who actually does seem like “Mr. Nice Guy”. (TV station Fox 10 in Phoenix AZ — reported by Rolling Stone magazine).

Cooper said about Glen Campbell:

“He was one of the premier guitar players in rock and country. A lot of people don’t know the respect he had in the rock & roll world,” Cooper says. “Eddie Van Halen asked one time . . . ‘Could you get me a guitar lesson with Glen?’ Most rockers would go, ‘What?’ That’s the kind of guitar player he was. He was considered one of the five best guitar players out there.” (Rolling Stone)

Click here to watch a short live performance of Glen Campbell and his amazing guitar work. I encourage you to notice three things: 

  1. Who’s listening and watching. 
  2. Their reaction. 
  3. Glen Campbell’s guitar solo.

I never progressed beyond the clarinet disaster in gaining any musical talent. As an adult, I was even corrected for my clapping in church (I was off-beat or something like that). Fortunately, a kind musician friend reassured me that it was only because I was on “Island Time” that I seemed off-beat. It’s comforting to know that it was the other 300 people who were out of sync and I was a misunderstood artist.

Listening to Glen Campbell this week was another reminder how much music has enriched my life and that music has always been Gentle on My Mind.

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Prayer and Meditation Simplified

Meditation centers our mind. If Christian meditation is new or elusive to you, here are three suggestions to get you started. This can be done in 15 minutes a day.

Breathing: Close your eyes and breathe through your nose and deep into your side ribs for a count of four. You should feel your side ribs expand — pause for a count or two – then exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Do this several times allowing your breathing to become balanced and rhythmic. You can then go back to normal breathing but continue to pay attention to your breathing keeping it balanced between the in and out breaths. This exercise helps in meditation because it focuses our attention on one point – our breathing.

Recite the “Our Father”1: Some Christian faith traditions are apprehensive about reciting or repeating the Our Father because Jesus cautioned about “meaningless repetition” or “empty phrases”. His caution, however, was about spiritual “earning” or putting on a religious show through our prayers. Jesus actually taught a formula prayer: In the book of Luke when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. He said, “When you pray, say: Father . . . .”   Repeating the Our Father for five minutes can be helpful in centering our minds on God and his kingdom.

Silence: Finally sit in silence for five minutes. Silence is helpful in centering ourselves and hearing God. If your thoughts are flying all over the place don’t worry about it. This is normal and expected. As time goes on your focus will increase.

I encourage you to schedule 15 minutes a day to concentrate on your breathing, reciting the Our Father, and being silent. This will help you begin (or return to) your practice of meditation.2


1 Luke 11.1-4

2 If you’d like daily scripture readings to expand your meditation, visit This is a service of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. This can be added to your calendar with a daily notification.

*For the original (and expanded) version of this post and it’s connection to Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle:

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My wife, Janet, sent me a podcast from the Read-Aloud Revival about Jólabókaflóðið (Jolabokaflod). 

Jolabokaflod Distilled: This is an Icelandic tradition. On Christmas Eve you give a new book to someone you care about. Then you curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and read your book.

I thought this seems like the perfect holiday tradition. So tonight we begin with our first attempt at celebrating Jólabókaflóðið. 

To learn more:

Find the Read-Aloud Revival podcast with Sarah Mackenzie — or read this article from the Martha Stewart website:

Jolabokaflod pronunciation

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In the Bleak Midwinter — Christmas 2022

Photo: by Janet Small – Nativity Arrangement by Our Grandchildren

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. (Psalm 22.9-10)

I’ve had a lot of wonderful Christmases. There are the childhood memories of family celebrations. Janet and I were married 10 days before Christmas. We’ve had 40 years of celebrating with our children and grandchildren. We’ve even spent a Christmas Day in Bethlehem standing within feet of where Jesus was born. (Coincidentally, my dad also spent a Christmas Day in Bethlehem during World War II.) 

It was 75 and sunny on the West Bank as we drove by the Star & Bucks coffee shop in downtown Bethlehem. It was hardly the “Bleak Midwinter” we hear about in the Christmas Song or the “Bleak Midwinter” in pre-climate change “Minn-a-soda” where I was raised. 

In the bleak midwinter 
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, 
Water like a stone;

In my family of origin, Christmas Eve was the reference point for Christmas celebrations. There was an abundance of presents, children and grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. Christmas Eve also came with an abundance of conflict, fighting, competition, hurt feelings, temper tantrums, and scheming. This was mostly from the adults.

In this context is my favorite childhood Christmas memory. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I went ice-skating for several hours. My friends were already celebrating or traveling, so I went alone — or should I say in solitude. I pretty much had the rink and chalet to myself. It was snowing.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, 
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago

A few blocks away was a public nativity scene. Off to the side was a message: “Wise Men Still Seek Him“. While there were a few scattered attempts to get us to church as kids, most of my theology came from TV and Christmas songs. Yet this nativity scene fascinated me. Why? Because I believed this story. 

Without being formally taught, I already had a faith in Jesus Christ. But how did this happen? How did I get to this faith with sparse and often erroneous teaching about Jesus combined with a strong dose of myth, tradition, sentimentalism, and fairy tales? The Gospel of John explains why. Jesus reveals himself: 

  • “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
  • “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
  • “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The wise may still seek him according to the nativity scene, but there is something even more profound: He came to seek me! He found a way to reach me apart from the church, theological training, or good works. This is the part many miss about Christianity. It’s the seeking and acceptance by Jesus Christ of who we are — just as we are. Once we embrace our status that “We are loved”, it opens up new possibilities and we find the magic in Christmas.


1In the Bleak Midwinter. Poem by Christina Rossetti and later turned into a Christmas Carol by Gustav Holst. Information and poem formatting provided by Wikipedia

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The Most Christian Person I’ve Ever Met

Teresa of Avila Turns 500

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Three

[She] has now died, full of joy at having found rest, and within her lives Christ. Let us see what her new life is like, and how different it is from her earlier one. (Teresa of Avila)

He worked the soul like he worked the land
He spoke in ways that anyone could understand 
Simple words of simple faith 
And when it came to love 
He would go out of his way
A helping hand 
A soothing chat 
And he practiced what he preached imagine that  (Michael W. Smith)

The metaphor of death and new life is common in spiritual literature. In order to have new life, we must die to our previous existence. Sometimes this death is nearly imperceptible, other times it’s significant events like a book, an illness, or a person that catalyzes our transformation.

About twenty years…

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