Embarrass Yourself Then Go On Rejoicing

I surprised my sons with tickets to a Josh Ritter Concert.  Ritter is their favorite rock star.  They have chosen well.  He has real truth and joy and artistry in him.  So I pulled the boys from school and we rented a tin can of a car and drove north five hours to Portland Oregon.  We arrived in time to walk down to the best bookstore in America and I bought them each a book by Kurt Vonnegut (another truth teller who I once had dinner with and interviewed when I was in college and who, like Ritter, knows his Bible) as a souvenir.

We ate at the Ringler, a McMenamins pub, then headed upstairs to the Crystal Ballroom and stood just beneath the man himself, right up against the railing.  First thing you should know about Josh Ritter: he will always be the most joyful man in the room.

Second thing: he knows how to see the world for what it is and then translate it into song.  He has written the two best war songs of our time. He captures the grief, hubris, spiritual anguish, confusion, complexity, and just plain sin of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Girl in the War  is one of those songs.  Check out this version here from a record store in Seattle:

The other is Thin Blue Flame which Josh sang without amplification at the edge of the stage.  If you don’t know the lyrics you should read them.  They remind me of the best of the Hebrew Psalms:

I once talked with Josh Ritter a couple of years back after a gig in Jacksonville, Oregon.  We talked about Thomas Merton. Ritter had met with Joan Baez and she told him a story of sneaking on the property of the Trappist Monastery in Kentucky, and finding Merton’s hermitage. She knocked at the door and Merton answered.  She told him she wanted to talk about God.  Merton’s response, “Before we talk, I need you to go back into town and get me a couple of cheeseburgers and a six pack of beer.”  Baez, at the height of her fame as a folk singer and in the middle of a tour, drove back into Louisville.  She bought the cheeseburgers and beer and returned to spend the evening talking with Merton about the mystery of God while he drank and ate cheeseburgers.  I had read this story before but it was fun to listen to Josh tell it and then for both of us to smile at one another–at the humanity of Merton and the mixed human desire for God, beer, and hamburgers.

My third favorite moment of the concert, and a moment I hope my sons remember, is when Josh said, “You know, my basic mode is embarrass yourself. Then move on. Embarrass yourself then go on…rejoicing.”

The truth is that Ritter doesn’t have the most powerful voice.  His range is limited and at times he does embarrass himself, but he’s got such heart and hope and a willingness to look at the truth of the human condition (the soul of the human being, the violence, the ignorance and beauty of the human being).  Why not try and express something, make something, do something beautiful?  Then well, if you fail or make a fool of yourself, why not stand back up, step forward, and go on…rejoicing?

Murder in the City

My sons play music around our town–street corners, farmers’ markets, and school talent shows.  Last weekend they were invited to play at the local mall.  They chose a song by the Avett Brothers entitled Murder in the City.  My favorite line, “If I get murdered in the city, don’t go revenging in my name.”

Come Home: A Retreat in the Mountains

My friends Frank Rogers, Nancy Linton, and Doug Frank have spent the past seven years leading a beautiful retreat up in the Cascade mountains here in Southern Oregon.  You live in cabins, spend mornings in silence, and Frank Rogers leads powerful spiritual exercises that help you recover your sense of God and self.  There are two retreat sessions, the dates are June 26-July 2 and July 24-30, 2011.  These retreats sell out each year, so if you’re interested register here.

Here’s the description that they give:

The world moves at an inhuman pace, compelling us to move with it.  We have too little time for remembering the spirit that brought us to our place of work or study, too few opportunities for replenishing the inner resources upon which the genuine expression of our gifts depends.  Before we know it, we are living at the surface, running on empty.  Why not step back and take some time out for self-recollection?

Spend a rejuvenating week in our serene mountain community, in the company of others who wrestle with similar challenges, who are on a similar journey.  Let the silence and the solitude bring you closer to yourself, awaken what is deepest in your, reconnect you with what you love.

Allow the experience of contemplative listening and the practice of contemplative prayer animate deep thought and real talk about life in our world, the world in which we work, study, and seek to be true to our calling.  For more information go to Greensprings retreat.


Love: Songs and Stories

I lead a storytelling series in Ashland, Oregon entitled The Hearth: Real Stories by Regular Folks. On Valentines Day, I’ll get a chance to tell love stories of romance, suffering, and redemption…all in the name of love.  It’s a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of St. Helena. There will be live music by brother Trent Yaconelli, backed by violinist Duane Whicomb, guitarist Zach Hammer, percussionist Benjie Kushins and pianist Jimmy Donaghy. The event takes place from 7 to 9pm at St. Helena’s Caldwell – Snyder Gallery.  Napa Valley wines, ports, champagne and chocolates will be served. Tickets are $35.00 per person and available here. Free childcare at the Boys & Girls Club is included in the price.  Should be a great night for a great cause.

Greenbelt TV

One evening at last summer’s Greenbelt festival I was rushed into a television studio and asked to describe the soul in three minutes or less.  I failed by 33 seconds.  I’m not sure where they found these people for the studio audience.  From the looks of their faces this was either a narcotics anonymous group or people serving time for animal cruelty.