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Last Wednesday evening was the Fairmont Entertainment Company (FEC) Winter Showcase. The showchoir did a medley from the musical, Rent, but the spotlight was on the vocal jazz ensembles, especially The Eleventh Hour which cleaned up in the state competition last month.

Please see FEC concert photos at:

Tonight was the Kettering Middle/High School choral concert. The 7th and 8th grade choirs from Ketteing Middle School and Van Buren Middle School each performed three songs, and then the high school Treble and Concert Choirs, and the Symphonic Chorale each performed their upcoming contest pieces.

Jose was slightly nervous as I tied his tie, but I kept reassuring him there was no need to be nervous. One of my students offered some encouragement. Jose was fine! He actually smiled this time and opened his mouth more. Matthew, as always, was engaging as he sang.

I am proud of both boys and their performance skills. Matthew is so natural and seemed quite experienced. Jose, once he understands how talented he is – especially with movement – will be dynamite. I have contacted Chris Ott, the superb vocal percussionist for Eleventh Hour. Chris is also a tremendous dancer and trombonist – really neat kid!

The Kettering Middle School just did not seem to have it together tonight. Vocally, they were OK, but behaviorally, especially on stage, they were embarassing. Several of the Black girls just could not care less about the concert and I wanted, so much, to drag them off stage. I would be content with just the Van Buren choirs – who are under the direction of Brody. Brody’s students behave like professionals, and it was so apparent tonight when his middle school students were on stage. Hands down – Brody’s middle school choirs have their acts together.
Wowee! What a fantastic weekend. Tiring, but fantastic!

The entire week was filled with meetings, extra teaching and very little time to breathe.

I worked a little later at The Muse Machine until Jeff Carter arrived. Jeff was hired to be one of the ajudicators for the Kettering Fairmont High School Show Choir Invitational and he arrived on Friday afternoon. He received a brief tour of the Muse Machine office suite, and then we took a quick trip to Woodland Cemetery to see the Wright Family graves, and past Hawthorne Hill, the home of Orville Wright. Since the boys had to be at the high school for the invitational set-up at 5:00PM, Jeff and I took the boys to Panera Bread to eat, and then I gave Jeff a tour of the new performing arts facilities. We drove north to Monte & Chris’, and then went to the neatest restaurant. It was great. Afterwards we spent some time with Monte & Chris at their home, and then I showed Jeff to his hotel in Miamisburg. I returned home to work on the MC script for the show choir invitational and finished it at 1:30AM. At 4:00AM, I was wide awake and could not get back to sleep.

We were up before 6:00AM – the boys headed over to the high school at 7:00AM. I got there at 8:00AM and met with the judges. I was dressed in my new black suit with a deep royal blue shirt, and my new yellow power tie with blue rectangles. I felt like the male version of Cinderella at the ball! Everyone kept telling me how handsome I looked. I didn’t want to take it off. I was the MC for the entire day – from 9:00AM until 6:00PM – on my feet. I ate lunch and supper with the judges and had some fun discussions. I sat with Jeff for the evening competition. After the competition, with Beavercreek High School as the winner (my former student’s choir came in second), the students cleaned the host rooms and stage and we left around 12:15AM. I drove a student home and returned to arguing sons. I know they were tired, but they had allowed little infractions move directly into full fledged bickering. So, I brought them to my study and allowed them to solve it. I worked on Email, changed into my bed clothes and finally, at 1:00AM, Jose offered the first hand shake of truce. I went to bed at 2:00AM.

What a great day for music at church. We left church and headed immediately for Indiana for the celebration of my great-great-uncle’s birthday. Frank was married to my great-grandmother’s sister, Marie, who passed away several years ago. Uncle Frank & Aunt Marie had a daughter, Susan, who is my mother’s age. Susan and I were always close as she has a boisterous sense of humor and laughs harder than any one I know.Susan has two sons, Todd, now 38, and Scott, now 35. Scott has always been one of my favorite people in the world – we just always seemed to hit it off. When he was in high school at Indianapolis’ Perry Meridian, he wanted to try out for drum-major. Susan brought him over to Ball State a number of times for me to work with him, and I went to Indianapolis to work with him. For two years, Scott was a fantastic drum-major! Now, Scott is married with two children, and I was so thrilled to see him. It had been 15 years and seeing him Sunday literally made my day. We got to see a lot of family members, and Uncle Frank was moved to tears when he entered to see 80 some people there to honor him. We left around 4:00PM and returned to Dayton – grabbed some groceries from Wal-Mart and then grabbed some Chinese food before heading home where I collapsed in my bed at 9:15PM.

For more photographs of Uncle Frank’s birthday celebration, please visit the following link:

Wow! When I look back on the past week or so, I am breathless – and the coming week is just as bad.

To recap:

Most of February 6th through the 11th, I spent most of my extra time preparing the sermon I gave on President Lincoln’s spirituality on February 12th.

Friday, February 10
My friends, Brody (Fairmont choral director) and Mark Tangeman (former choral booster parent) and I went to Cadillac Jack’s for an “all-you-can-eat-fish-dinner” which was excellent. Afterwards, we headed back to Brody’s for pipes and cigars (I only smoke my pipe) and drinks. Brody had written to a pipe tobacco company asking for their opinion on samples and they sent him a huge bag of various pipe tobaccos. So, we each tried 4 or 5 different bags, and took home one or two – and Brody still had about 25 bags remaining.

Saturday, February 11
I spent some extra time on the sermon, and called my friend, Jeff Carter, to hear his opinion on a few items. He was a tremendous help by refocusing my question – “was Lincoln a Christian?” By the time Jeff finished, the question was, “was Lincoln Christian?” Bingo! That evening I hurried to Monte & Chris Stevens’ to take photos of Nathaniel, his date and their friends as they prepared to go to the “turnabout dance.” Monte, Chris and I then joined 30 some others at the Japanese Sake restaurant for a delicious meal. Afterwards, we drove back to the Stevens’ for mint chocolate chip ice cream and conversation until 11:00PM. Ugh! I had intended to leave at 9:00PM, but they kept regaling me with stories which had me rolling. Still, I was a poor guest by overstaying my welcome. I have learned there are just some people in this world you just enjoy so much that the time literally, and sadly, flies by quickly.

Sunday, February 12
I had gone to bed at 2:30AM and was up at 5:45AM to head over to Our Savior Lutheran Church to take photos of the Dayton Mission Trip as they prepared to head to Slidell, Louisiana, where they would assist with the Katrina clean-up. Even at 6:30AM, Monte and I were in rare form. While they were in Louisiana, they did get to enjoy some of the preliminary Mardes Gras celebrations.

For photos of the mission trip, please visit:

As usual, the ride to church was coupled with my Sunday morning phone conversation with Mother. The sermon seemed to go well, and many were lined up following the service to thank me. Chris, Adam, my sons and I went to Wendy’s for lunch, and Chris and I – as usual – spent nearly two hours chatting away about anything and everything as the boys patiently amused themselves. Afterwards the boys and I ran errands, finally settling at home around 7:00PM. I got in a kick to clean and shampooed all the rugs and carpets, and tidied up a little more.

Monday through Thursday, February 13-16
Busy week at The Muse Machine offices. Each night I downloaded pictures from the Katrina ravaged area, sent by the mission gang. I then loaded these photos on to the blog site I was keeping for the team. Tuesday was my sister’s 33rd birthday and the boys and I sang “Happy Birthday” her over the telephone. Wednesday I began feeling very run-down and somewhat “yucky.” I ran by the doctor’s and he said it looked like I might be coming down with strep-throat. I canceled lessons so students wouldn’t come down with anything I might have. I took my medicine, slept for several hours and then hurried to Van Buren Middle School for a parent-teacher conference with Jose’s teachers. You can choose autumn or winter for these conferences, and I always choose both. The report on Jose was great, and the teachers seem to love having him in class. Thursday night, the boys and I sang to my nephew, Andrew, to congratulate him on his 7th birthday. Later, Chris Stevens called and we chatted away for – well, let’s say it was after 1:00AM when we finally hung up.

Friday, February 17
I woke to a sore throat, tired and not wanting to do anything. The boys had the day off from school, so I took them with me to The Muse Machine. I introduced them to the staff and then they walked over to the Montgomery County Library and spent a few hours there. They came back around 11:40AM and went to get Chinese, then joined all of us for lunch. We left after 1:00PM and I took a nap for an hour or so. Taught, and then hurried to Action Adoption to teach a pre-adoption course. Normally I stay for a while and talk to Pat Hill, the executive director, but I was pooped and hurried home.

Saturday, February 18
It was a slow morning. I worked around my study and finally we all showered and dressed and headed to Wal-Mart to get salad and soda to take to the Stevens’ for a pizza supper. I got caught in “Stupid-fest” in the self-checkout lane – ugh! What morons! We ate pizza with Chris, Nathaniel, Adam and Nathaniel’s girlfriend, Emily. Afterwards, we drove over to Northmont High School to see a production of my most favorite musical, Children of Eden by Stephen Schwartz. I love this show. The students did a good job despite the fact it is a very big show to produce. Eden is a rich, animated production as delicious as Eve’s proverbial apple. But this is not just the epic story of what happens once Eve bites into the forbidden fruit. Schwartz and Caird go one step further, examining ancient familial relationships, specifically between father and children. Like a church experience without the religious fervor, Eden casts a warm spotlight on the consequences of disobedience and the importance of holding faith in others.

After the show we chatted with Monte who had returned from the mission trip, and we got to hear a few of the stories before calling it a night.

Sunday, February 19
Another cold day in the Miami Valley. We went to church, and then to Ruby Tuesdays for lunch with the Stevens family. The boys and I drove to Sam’s Club so I could get new tires, but the store in Centerville had closed its auto department for remodeling. The boys and I ran a few errands, and while getting a new keyboard and mouse for my computer, I spied a $9.99 DVD of one of my favorite movies, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne, Maureen O”Hara and the ever adorable, Barry Fitzgerald. The movie has some of the most gorgeous scenes of Ireland, and the music, beautifully orchestrated Irish tunes, just melts the heart. I could watch this – or listen to it over and over just to hear the music. One of my favorite melodies, “The Isle of Innesfree” is the main meldoy throughout the movie, and it has the most haunting, lovely sound.

And this coming week:
Monday – Muse & teachingTuesday – Muse, teaching, The Music Man parent meeting
Wednesday – Muse, teaching, Matthew’s show choir concert
Thursday – Muse, teaching
Friday – Muse, teaching, Jeff Carter comes to town for the show choir invitational, dinner with Monte, Chris, and JeffSaturday – Show choir invitational from 7:00AM until approximately midnight
Sunday – church, hurry to Indiana to celebrate my great-great-uncle’s 90th birthday
So – if my blogs are not present this week – you will know why!

Well, this morning I gave my Lincoln sermon, and was somewhat pleased with its reception.

Here is the sermon:

The Spirituality of Abraham Lincoln

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these things were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

One hundred and forty-two years ago today, Abraham Lincoln wrote these words. So often, President Lincoln is referred to as our most “Christian president.” Although few today would equate Lincoln with Christ so explicitly, our casual ways of talking about the martyred president embody something of an old idea.

Consider – if you would – these images of Lincoln:
v the common man of uncommon wisdom,
v the man who saved a country and freed the slaves,
v the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief,
v the man who could forgive a hostile, warring nation,
v the man who showed great compassion and love for all humanity
v the teller of simple stories dense with meaning.

The day after Abraham Lincoln’s death was Easter Sunday and it took almost no time at all for the pious and patriotic people to transform Lincoln into the American Christ. American preachers forgot their prepared Easter sermons and rhapsodized about the martyred president. Some compared him with Moses leading his oppressed people to freedom. But most likened him to Christ – the savior of the nation.

A couple of years ago I was driving through the square in Hodgenville, Kentucky, a little community near the site of Lincoln’s birthplace, and I noticed that this town had draped his statue with holly, ivy and Christmas greenery. Without thinking a thing of it, the good people of Hodgenville had merged one humble but redeeming birth into another.

For over a century now, there have been tons of comparisons between Lincoln and Christ:
· Both were born in humble origins
· Both of their fathers were carpenters
· Both worked as laborers before beginning their careers
· Both loved all walks of life – especially children
· Both had many enemies who wished them harm
· Both were great story tellers
· Both were considered radical
· Both men were capable of great love for mankind
· Christ entered Jerusalem a few days before his death to shouts of “Hosanna” and “Savior” and “Messiah.”
· Lincoln entered Richmond, Virginia a few days before his death, also to shouts of “Hosanna” and “Savior” and “Messiah.”
· Both men looked after their mothers until the day of their assassinations
· Christ and Lincoln were both executed on Good Friday
· Christ, moments away from death, asked that his enemies be forgiven with the words, “Father forgive them.”
· Lincoln, in his second inaugural address the month before his death, pleaded with Northern states to forgive the Southern Confederacy – “With malice toward none.”

Modern religious scoffers have been reluctant to recognize Abraham Lincoln’s deep spirituality, in spite of the fact that he was often known as “Father Abraham” and has been described as one of the most deeply religious presidents the country has ever seen. The key to Lincoln’s belief system was a rough-hewn version of predestination that he absorbed from the evangelical Baptist preachers who scoured the frontiers of Kentucky and Indiana.

Yet for all of his familiarity with the Bible, and his invocation of Providence and of the Almighty, he did not actively participate in a church or lend his name and authority to a denomination. Lincoln was not, as his wife, Mary Todd, later described, “a technical Christian.”

The religious aspect Lincoln’s spirituality was this: Lincoln believed some form of providence was at work in the universe, but was unable to believe in Jesus Christ as his savior. He was once quoted to say that he would join the church that had engraved above its altar: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength.” Although he was unable to believe fully in Christian doctrine, he was never comfort-able in his unbelief. But what is so difficult to comprehend is how, during the devastation of the Civil War, Lincoln’s self-made theology reshaped American history. And the question that is of-ten asked among my fellow Lincoln scholars:

Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

Sadness and suffering appear to be at the core of Lincoln’s spirituality. At the age of nine, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the woman Lincoln claimed as his be-loved angel mother, died in the woods of the family’s Indiana farm. A few years later he lost his sister Sarah who was his closest companion in the world.

In 1850, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln lost their three year-old-son, Eddie. With Eddie’s death, Mary turned to religion by joining the Presbyterian Church, and Abraham turned to the Bible. His thorough investigation of the scriptures launched him on a steady course that permeated his soul and his future political writings.

In 1862, one year into the Civil War, the Lincoln’s lost their cherished eleven-year-old son, Willie. This particular family tragedy tilted the emotional balance for Mary who sought comfort from an era popularized with spiritualists and séances.
But for Lincoln, this personal tragedy, coupled with the grievous casualties of the war, ignited an even greater faith in God and his own belief of a purpose driven life.

Religion became a hot issue in 1846 when Lincoln ran for congress against a famous Illinois Methodist minister, Peter Cartright. The Cartwright camp spread talk of Lincoln as infidel. Lincoln attended one of Rev. Cartright’s campaign speeches and took a seat not too far from the speaker’s stand. The portly and boisterous Rev. Cartright spied his tall, lean opponent and took advantage of this surprise visit. Rev. Cartright worked his audience into an emotional, revival frenzy.

Finally he said, “If you love the Lord, stand up!”

The crowd rose with arms stretched towards the open sky, cheering for several min-utes. Lincoln remained seated.

“If you are a Christian, stand up!”

The crowd rose again with cheers and outstretched arms. Still, Lincoln remained seated.

“If you know you are going to heaven, stand up!”

This time, the response was thunderous. Spying Lincoln still seated, Rev. Cartright looked over at his congressional opponent and pointed a finger. “You, Mr. Lincoln! Where do you intend on going?”

Lincoln rose to his full height of six feet, four inches, looked around at the thousands gathered, turned to Rev. Cartright and said, “Well, I intend on going to congress.”

The crowd roared.

The next day Lincoln responded to Rev. Cartright’s claims of Lincoln’s disrespect for religion with what is probably his most revealing theological statement. Lincoln wrote: “That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true, but I have never uttered any disrespect toward religion in general or of any Christian group.”

Lincoln was elected to the United States Congress. It would be his last political vic-tory until the presidential election of 1860. Lincoln would have gained politically by joining a church, maintaining a religious-front and keeping doubts to himself. But that would have been out of character.

Was Lincoln a Christian?

Although Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession of stan-dard Christian beliefs, it is obvious that Christianity exerted a profound influence on his life for Lincoln’s speeches and conversation revealed a spiritual perception far above the ordi-nary.

It is one of the great ironies of the history of Christianity in America that the most profoundly religious analysis of the nation’s deepest trauma came not from a clergyman or a theologian but from a politician who was self-taught in the ways of both God and humanity.

The source of Lincoln’s Christian perception will probably always remain a mystery, but of the unusual depth of that perception there is no doubt. Nowhere was that depth more visible than in his Second Inaugural Address of March 1865. This address has often been called the greatest state paper of the nineteenth century, but it is more than a state paper. It is a theological classic.

This occasion on March 4, 1865, gave Lincoln his best opportunity to state the Bibli-cal faith that formed the center of his conviction. He included:
v fourteen references to God
v many scriptural allusions and
v four direct quotations from the Bible.

It is difficult to think of another state paper so steeped in Scripture and so devoted to theological reflection.

Once during the Civil War, a Northern minister told the president, “I hope the Lord is on our side.”

Lincoln, with what I personally believe to be his most prolific statement said, “I don’t think it matters that God is on our side, but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

During the war, God became even more instrumental to Lincoln because he believed God had a magnificent work for America to perform, a work significant for the whole world. It seemed as though Lincoln began speaking not to his country alone but to aspirants for freedom in all countries around the world, and not to his own moment in history but to the centuries.

The proposition that all men are created equal was a truth for the ages, and if Amer-ica, under God, achieved a new birth of freedom, it would stand as an object lesson to all nations.

Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

Yesterday afternoon I called up my dear friend of mine in Muncie, Indiana, who is a music professor at Ball State University and an ordained minister. My friend redirected in my thinking by relating a question proposed by one of his religion professors.

The teacher said to his students, “Many ask, ‘do I have faith?’ But what is important to ask is, ‘Am I faithing?’”

The professor turned FAITH into a verb.

As we discussing the mystery of Lincoln’s spirituality I began forming a much more pointed question:

“We can ask ‘Was Lincoln a Christian?’

But we’ll never know the answer. What we should ask is, ‘Was Lincoln Christian?’”

Now this I believe we can justify -Lincoln was, without a doubt, very Christian. But then my friend stated something that seemed to sum up Lincoln’s spirituality. He said: “If anything, Lincoln’s faith was consistent.”

That began unraveling even more ideas and questions – not about Lincoln, but about myself, and my life.

Am I consistent enough?
Do I love others enough?
Do I serve enough?
Do I forgive enough?
Do I love God enough?

The tapestry of Lincoln’s life is masterful. From his suffering he drew compassion. From his weakness he drew strength. Although today we see President Lincoln in stone and on the pages of American his-tory, he was our most human president, and perhaps our most Christ-like who modeled a consistent practice of his faith.

Lincoln’s summary of faith, which I read at the start, is still vital today.

v Have we forgotten God?
v Do we imagine that all the blessings of our own lives are produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own?
v Have we become so intoxicated with unbroken success that we are too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace?
v Are we too proud to pray to the God that made us?

And I ask myself: Am I consistent in my own faith? Amen.

Friday evening, one of my voice students, Katie O’Neill, drove Jose up to the Stevens’ home so he could leave with Pastor Monte and three fellow confirmands for Camp Muwana, an hour or so north of Columbus.

Saturday morning, I woke at 8:30AM having been out with Chris Stevens until 1:15AM. I began balancing my check book, worked on my up coming sermon on Lincoln, cleaned my study, and completed my taxes. Chris called at some point and we talked for about an hour or so. She indicated Monte would be coming home early to avoid the approaching snow storm. At 6:00PM, Matthew and I went to a Chinese dinner and then headed downtown to see the musical, Hairspray. We had listened to the music often in the car, and we all loved the music. The show is fantastic, and definitely worth seeing.

Before leaving for the musical, I called Chris to see if Monte had made it back and she reported he was snowed in! LOL! Kristen would step in to preach again, and everything else seemed to be falling in place. I agreed to arrive early to shovel snow and salt the walks.

Today was a bitter cold that tore right through the coat. After shoveling and salting, I could not shake off the cold. Sunday school, as usual, was sheer delight. Kristen gave a great sermon, and the hymns were good. After church, Matthew and I went to eat and then headed home, thinking that Monte and the four kids would arrive later in the afternoon. At 1:15PM I laid down for my Sunday nap and Jose called to say they would be arriving around 2:00PM. I slept for 30 minutes and then hurried back up north to retrieve my joyful Hispanic son and returned home to continue the nap.

After the nap, Jason called, then Monte, then Jason, then Frank, and then Jason again. Brody left a message at some point to see if I wanted to walk the dogs and smoke the pipes.

Now it is evening. The boys are down in the basement watching television and I am finishing up items before settling down once again with notes I am making for the Lincoln sermon. Susan Pringle, the part-time executive director for the Muse Machine is returning to Dayton this week and we have a major marketing meeting on Wednesday. I have reviewed all the notes and made my own suggestions, for what they are worth.

Tuesday is a parent meeting on the high school musical, and Wednesday is a choir boosters’ meeting. Most of my extra time will be spent preparing the Lincoln sermon. Saturday Matt is taking the ACT next door at the high school. I am also working with several case workers on three different boys from Idaho, Washington and Texas. My sister is throwing a birthday party for my nephew, Andrew, and the Ball State Singers is having a formal dance to which alumni are invited. There is just no way I can make it to Indiana and back in Dayton to be fresh for Sunday. I will be up early Sunday to take photos of those leaving on the Katrina mission trip to Louisiana, and will return home to prep for church.

I hope to produce more blog entries as there are so many things floating around in the brain. I have been in a period of re-inventing myself, and I guess the Muse Machine position is a portion of that. The dieting is so-so, but I am at least making an effort. Finding time for the exercise is the toughest thing, and I hate taking power walks alone. Brody is terribly busy (and married), so that puts a cramp in his time to power walk. Jason works out at 6:00AM – no way. I guess I will just have to reinvent my physical shape at another time.

He was a friend of mine,
He was a friend of mine,
Everytime I think of him,
I just can’t keep from cryin’,
He was a friend of mine.

Lyrics & Music by Bob Dylan Performed by Willie Nelson

“It is better to have love and have lost than never having loved at all.”

Last night, after teaching class, Chris Stevens and I went to see Brokeback Mountain. I had really not heard anything about it until a week ago when Chris mentioned it, and was somewhat hesitant to see it. Ironically, within a few days, several friends reported seeing it and suggested, even insisted that I should see it. I really don’t know that I can do this particular blog entry justice as I am still somewhat numb from the experience. When the credits had finished rolling, Chris and I were still sitting there staring at the screen. Since Chris and I had dinner plans afterwards, I held a tight reign on my emotions throughout the movie, not wanting to give in to the sadness that would have surely dominated my mood the remainder of the evening.

How does one describe Brokeback Mountain?

Star-crossed lovers. They’ve filled book pages and film frames for as long as those things have existed. Tristan and Isolde. Romeo and Juliet. Scarlett and Rhett. Superman and Lois Lane. And now Ennis and Jack. Take everything you know about how love works (or doesn’t work) when two people who are crazy about each other find themselves doomed to a life of separation by time, distance or culture—and remove the woman from the equation. What’s left is Brokeback Mountain.

Wyoming, 1963. Two young drifters turn up at a remote office and get hired to spend the summer together, herding sheep high up on Brokeback Mountain. Suspicious, laconic, stunned by cold and hardship, they don’t seem a natural pair – until, drunk one night, enforced intimacy turns to sexual contact. It’s a contact that is just as unexpected and unacceptable to them as it remains to some today, especially in the rural American west. In a stunning reversal, though, the drifters fall emotionally and physically in love. Up on idyllic Brokeback Mountain, far from social approbation, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) luxuriate in a rough-and-tumble idyll as Edenic in spirit as it is in setting. The mountain seems to bless their union, but inexorably the air begins to chill, they come down off the mountain, and they part.

Ennis moves to Riverton, Wyoming – where my friends Rev. Mike & Joy Johnson moved this summer – marries Alma and has two girls. Jack heads down to Texas on the rodeo circuit, marries Lureen and has a boy. But the men can’t get over each other, despite the fact that Ennis insists it’s a “one-shot thing.”

Five years later, they meet again – now married with children. As Brokeback Mountain moves the men’s story forward through the decades, they escape from their wives and pursue each other in an effort at recapturing the rural bliss of their primal scene, the isolation of setting and frozen emotional boundaries of the love preclude any intrusion of more modern accepting attitudes. Jack wants to shack up and settle down with Ennis. Ennis is too worried about what the neighbors might think. (It is the 1960s and ’70s, after all.) So they continue their separate lives, punctuating their painful existence with giddy sexual flings the pair dubs “fishing trips.” What follows is a slow disintegration of not only their own lives, but the lives of everyone they touch.

Ennis is the cool-as-a-cucumber type who wouldn’t hurt a fly… until you push him too far. Then he’ll crush you. The most emotional moment, when he appears in just such a rage, is when Alma confronts him about his relationship with Jack. This comes a number of years after their marriage has ended and she has remarried. As Alma tells him of the note she tied to his fishing pole before he left to meet Jack on one of their many “fishing trips,” she would find the same note, untouched, year after year. Ennis raises his fist to her but does not strike her. Instead he races out of the house and pummels the first guy he sees. That guy is no pushover, though, and the result is an intense exchange of blows. Earlier in the movie, at a Fourth of July picnic, Ennis socks a guy for swearing in front of his kids. The most heart wrenching moment is after parting ways with Jack that first summer on Brokeback Mountain… Ennis, crumples in tears and begins hitting a wall in anger and frustration.

The only reason Ennis’ marriage ends in divorce, teaches the film, is because he never should have been married… to a woman. The only reason Jack treks down to Mexico to enlist the services of a gay prostitute is because he doesn’t get enough face time with his true love, Ennis. And the only reason he doesn’t get that time with Ennis is because society won’t let them be together. That’s a powerful message far too many people are accepting, as evidenced by the emotion I could feel swelling around me when the credits began to roll.

Peering down through the years at the power of that Brokeback Mountain summer on the lives of Ennis and Jack, the movie delivers a virtually forensic vision of desire, denial and emotional cost. The depth of Ennis and Jack’s attachment to one another gives their lives meaning and drains all other meaning out of them, rendering the men both enriched and destitute emotionally. If Brokeback Mountain never shies away from the sexual truth of that attachment, it doesn’t settle for the merely explicit either. It’s a great love story, pure and simple. And simultaneously the story of a great love that’s broken and warped in the torture chamber of a society’s intolerance and threats, an individual’s fear and repression.

No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people’s ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships. It will be moving for anyone who is open to seeing the challenges and difficulties of what, at that time and even for many today, is the self-imposed and society-imposed necessity to live dishonestly. And, to be trivial for a moment, the scenery is sensational. But in the words of Ennis, “Ain’t no reins on this one.” Woven into his artistically masterful tapestry is the message that homosexual relationships don’t work because society won’t leave them alone long enough for them to mature.

Personally speaking, words cannot express the grief one feels about lost love. Then again, wise words, music, movies or theatre can heal wounds and help us reflect on the tragedy. When two people love each other, they love each other. And people should hold on to it as hard as they can, whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual. In the end, Brokeback Mountain is a grand romantic tragedy, joining the ranks of great literature as much as great cinema.

He was a friend of mine
He was a friend of mine
Every time I think about him now
Lord I just can’t keep from cryin’
‘Cause he was a friend of mine

He died on the road
He died on the road
He never had enough money
To pay his room or board
And he was a friend of mine

I stole away and cried
I stole away and cried
‘Cause I never had too much money
And I never been quite satisfied
And he was a friend of mine

He never done no wrong
He never done no wrong
A thousand miles from home
And he never harmed no one
And he was a friend of mine

He was a friend of mine
He was a friend of mine
Every time I think about him now
Lord I just can’t keep from cryin’
‘Cause he was a friend of mine

Life is a collage of beginnings and endings that run together like still-wet paint. Yet before we can begin any new phase in life, we must sometimes first achieve closure to the current stage we are in. That’s because many of life’s experiences call for closure. Often, we cannot see the significance of an event or importance of a lesson until we have reached closure. Or, we may have completed a certain phase in life or path of learning and want to honor that ending. It is this sense of completion that frees us to open the door to new beginnings. Closure serves to tie up or sever loose ends, quiets the mind even when questions have been left unanswered, signifies the end of an experience, and acknowledges that a change has taken place.

The period of completion, rather than being just an act of finality, is also one of transition. When we seek closure, what we really want is an understanding of what has happened and an opportunity to derive what lessons we can from an experience. Without closure, there is no resolution and we are left to grieve, relive old memories to the point of frustration, or remain forever connected to people from our past. A sense of completion regarding a situation may also result when we accept that we have done our best. If you can’t officially achieve closure with someone, you can create completion by participating in a closure ritual. Write a farewell letter to that person and then burn your note during a ceremony. This ritual allows you to consciously honor and appreciate what has taken place between you and release the experience so you can move forward.

Closure can help you let go of feelings of anger or uncertainty regarding your past even as you honor your experience – whether good or bad – as a necessary step on your life’s path. Closure allows you to emotionally lay to rest issues and feelings that may be weighing down your spirit. When you create closure, you affirm that you have done what was needed, are wiser because of your experience, and are ready for whatever life wants to bring you next.

When I discovered President Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, fell on a Sunday, I began pestering Pastor Monte about a Lincoln sermon. For some reason, it never registered that he and a mission group of fifty some others would be leaving for Slidell, Louisiana to assist with the remaining devastation of Katrina on the morning of February 12. Earlier this week, in an Email, I pestered him about the Lincoln sermon. That evening I was on the telephone with his wife, Chris, and I was sliding through the Emails he had sent earlier regarding the confirmands heading to Camp Mowana this weekend. And there it was…

Darin: “Do you have your Lincoln sermon started?”

Pastor Monte: “Actually, I had thought of asking you to preach on Lincoln’s birthday. I don’t know how you feel about preaching. Still can or you can pass. I will be leaving for Slidell, LA that morning and not be in church.”

I read the first line to Chris while laughing hysterically. What a jokester! Then, I continued reading further… “Holy Shit!” I exclaimed. “Monte’s serious.” Chris turned to Monte to confirm his seriousness.

Without giving it much thought, I agreed.

That night, the table next to my bed was filled with my Lincoln books, a pad of paper and a pen. It felt so good to be in a creative mode again – something I have missed terribly since beginning my work at the Muse Machine. I decided to speak on the spirituality of Lincoln, which I find so intriguing… our most Christ-like president who was not a technical Christian.

After it is delivered, I will post it on here.

The photograph above I found on the internet – it is my favorite photograph of him, and it has been colorized. I love it!

The other photograph is of wax sculptures of the Lincoln family at the new Lincoln Presidential Library Center in Springfield, which I hope to see in the near future.

Nothing new to report… I get up early, do house work or laundry, shower and go to work, spend five to six hours putting out fires and staring at a computer, come home and squeeze in a few more items before teaching for four to five hours, supper with the boys, a little time with them, work at my desk for an hour or so, and then bed. I am trying to read The Grapes of Wrath, but I get a page or two completed and I am sound asleep.

There is no time to do any writing, and this is creating an emptiness. In the musical, Brigadoon, one of the most beautifully written shows, Tommy Albright, the young American who enters the enchanted village and falls in love with Fionna, asks at the end, “Why must we lose something only to realize just how much we loved it?”

Flyer is always excited to see me when I walk in the door, but now she is even more so. At night, both Logan and Flyer snuggle a little closer in bed, and Logan, who for the past eleven years, would reluctantly give me one kiss on the nose each night, now gives me three or four.

Jose leaves tomorrow for a weekend at camp with his confirmation class, and I got tickets for Matt and I to go see Hairspray at the Schuster Center downtown. I may try to do some writing during the day, Saturday, but I also need to do some other things….
Ahhh…. life….

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February 2006
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