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Monday, December 07, 2015

Clarke and Dawe - The Nativity Play

GO! Cimb into your leaky little tub of a boat, and keep going.

“I have a feeling we have talked enough — that we need silence. Not much — three minutes; to spend three minutes not saying a damn thing. Can we do that? Are we brave enough to do that?”

I seem to only publish about Buechner these days. Buechner or music. Music and Buechner. 


To share I guess. It's as simple as that.

Perhaps not to feel alone with it all swirling inside me. 

Definitely, in the hope, however stupid it may feel sometimes, that it might latch onto something as important in you, and through that, create something undeniably important in each of us that we can yell together at the trees. Yell at the sun. Shout into the teeth of the rain. To proclaim together, "I feel... [what is it?] something like... truth!"

Whatever the reason, I guess I'm caring less and less about why I put this here. All I know is it's a conduit for hope and meaning and love in my life. A conduit because I don't think they are ends in themselves, hope, love and meaning. They are the means to an end that I can't yet name, but that I long for like I long for home. And for whatever reason, I can't help but believe that something about that end lies in the silence Buechner encourages us to be brave enough to try in the quote cited above. 

I believe it might have something to do with having the ability to sit in ourselves, and for three minutes not say a damned thing, as Buechner says, and nevertheless, despite that silence, and despite it being in many respects the most meaningless thing we could doto sit in silence contemplating nothing in particular - in spite of all that! - to be at home within ourselves, if only for three minutes


I share with you this address by Buechner, given in 1997 at the 250th anniversary of Princeton University. The text is available here. I encourage you to read along, if for nothing else other than to fully understand the power of the written word when it is spoken by its author!

And just for good measure, some Phoenix:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Luke and Pip's wedding

This is the text of a speech I gave earlier this year at Luke and Pip's wedding. I'm putting here for posterity I guess, and in the belief that no one is reading this but me! So that what this blog is, in the end, is more a diary of things that have moved me, than any attempt at exposure or feedback.

So with those disclosures in place: here it is.


When I was thinking about Luke and Pip, and what to say to you all here tonight about them, the idea that kept coming to mind was 'fate'.

This was a relationship that, it seems to me, was meant to be.

When I first met Luke - there was a certain amount of fate involved. Hugh andI first met Luke at a party back towards the end of school. Hugh and I happened to have turned up with a case of beers. Luke didn't. And so, we became friends. I wish I could say there was more to it than that. I wish I could say we connected on some deep level. No. It was the beers. And on such deliciously carbonated twists of fate are life long friendships made. Not just friendships as it turns out, but marriages. Because it was of course through Hugh that Luke went on to meet Pip.

Growing up, Luke and Andrew and I spent a lot of time at the Robilliard house in Haberfield. It was the stage for a lot of our adventures. We used to joke, that we were there so much we were basically part of the family.  I mean, I say 'joke'. But it's a joke that Luke has taken way too seriously. 

And then there was the competition to see which of us Helen liked the best: 

When Pip and Luke started going out, I thought, 'Well played sir. I see what you're doing. Smart move.' 
When Luke started getting invited to Robilliard family events I thought, 'OK. Not ideal for me.'
Even when Luke told me that Pip was to be pregnant with their first born child, there was part of me that thought, 'You're still in this James. Play the long game mate'.

Well guys, after today I think I'm willing to concede. Luke - you've only gone and become Helen's son-in-law! You win!

As teenager's hanging out at Stanton Rd, there was something that shone brightly about Pip and Luke when they were together. 

Pip was shy. But Luke is annoyingly charismatic. So much so, I'm pretty sure my Mum loves him more than she does me. 'It's the way that he talks to me on the phone James! "Hello Mrs Pender," he says, "And how are you?" You can tell that he was school captain.'

So obviously Pip was never going to be able to resist Luke - the laconic inner west heavy metal drummer with the school captain manners and the twinkle in his eye. As comfortable talking to the top brass of the Defence Force as he is to a 65 year old house wife with a subtle distrust of young people. 

I've watched these guys do some hard yards. From Sydney to Canberra. And Canberra to Sydney. And back again. And again. But they've made it work. When Luke was deployed to Afghanistan - there was a party at the Robilliard house in Haberfield (and I was invited - don't go on about it!). To ensure that Luke would appear in the photos taken that night, Pip provided people with a cut out of Luke's face to pose with. It was a small, some might say, silly gesture. But I remember thinking how great that was. They were always together. Sometimes, it's the little things.

Pip - since Luke has been with you. I have noticed a definite change in him. You give him a sense of direction, there's a calmness about Luke when he's with you. And inner strength. In you he's found not only a person to be with, he's found a self to be. And that is a precious gift. 

One of my favourite writers has a quote about love and it goes like this: "Love is more than a warmth to bask in. It is a grave and fierce yearning. A reaching out. A losing and finding of the self in the paradise of another. 

Luke and Pip - I've watched you yearn for each other. I've watched you reach out. And I look forward to being there as you continue to lose and find your selves in each others' paradise. 

Luke - I love you very much. And I thank God you didn't bring any beers to that party.

The dark shadow that the truth casts

The below is a passage from Frederick Buechner's Now and Then, an autobiographical memoir of his journey of vocation - as a minister, teacher and author.

The particular passage that I've selected is not about any of those things however. It is a passage, essentially, about love. It's about what love is; what it means to love; and the potential for hurt that necessarily comes with loving another human being fully - the dark shadow. Through this passage, Buechner comes to the conclusion that loving someone else can be crippling, both for ourselves, and for the ones we love, and that for that reason, "a distance must be kept". Buechner writes that, "if love is a matter of holding fast to, and identifying with, and suffering for, the ones we love, it is a matter also of standing back from, of leaving space for, of letting go of."

I don't know why it has stuck with me, this passage, this idea that we need to preserve distance from those we love. But is has stuck with me, ever since I first read it, dreary-eyed, on a flight from Sydney to Bangkok a few days ago.

Perhaps it has stuck with me because in Buechner's propensity for "helpless brooding and worrying", I recognise much of myself. As I do in his admission that such personal characteristics have been, throughout his life, "crippling both to myself and to the ones I love".

To love too much. That is the essence of it. To feel another's pain to the point where it ceases to be in any way empathic or helpful for them but simply (and selfishly?) a reflection of my own pain and worry in them. A confirmation of my suspicion that the world does have the capacity to do cruel and hurtful things to us before we are done.

Perhaps it is that.

Or perhaps it is that, although I've never thought deeply about it before, I've never thought it possible to love too much.

Or perhaps it is my stubborn, inert belief that there is nothing to be gained by holding back, by keeping distance, other than self preservation, and that it is ultimately through the sitting with, the engaging with, the working out of darkness and pain and sadness, that we ultimately learn something new about ourselves, and each other, and therefore our sense of being as humans on this earth. And although I would struggle to point to any empirical proof, I can't help but suspect that it is only by knowing ourselves, by having a self to be, that we can truly enter into relationship with all the other 'selves' out there. That we can enter into rather than simply pass beside. So to be told to 'keep distance' seems to me, in a sense, to be told to stop short, to shut the gates, to isolate ourselves from the possibility of knowing ourselves and others fully.

Or perhaps it is simply the fact that, somewhere deep down in me, I suspect that Buechner is right, and that much of the way we love others is not helpful, either to ourselves, or to the ones we love.

Although the passage is lengthy, I've felt the need to write it out in full here. Perhaps that in itself is sign enough that the words are important for me.


"As a writer I have spent so much time trying to bring my dreams to life that, looking back over the years, I remember occasions when life itself seemed dreamlike by comparison. There was the departure of Katherine and Dinah for boarding school, for instance. I knew perfectly well that they were going. We had driven them around to this school and that school till finally they found the one they liked best. And for the whole summer before they left, there was all the talk about it and the getting ready for it. And when the day finally came, Judy and I drove them there ourselves and met their roommates and lugged endless bags, boxes and suitcases up endless flights of stairs for them and kissed them goodbye at last, knowing that in a few weeks we would be seeing them again because the school in Massachusetts was only a couple of hours away after all.

What I did not see was that even though they were only a couple of hours away, and even thought there would be years of weekends and vacations for us to get together whenever we felt like it, there was a sense in which, when we kissed them goodbye that September afternoon, we were kissing them goodbye for keeps. From that day forward, Vermont would never be home for them again in the way it had been. It would be a place to go for weekends and vacations. From that day forward, home, for them, was theirs to find wherever in themselves or in the world they ever happened to find it, if they were lucky enough to find it at all. Two of the four most precious people in my life had left for good, and I had been looking the other way at the time. Life went on, of course, and I managed to get around much as before, but there were times when it felt like trying to get around on broken legs, and there are times when it feels that way still.

It was not just that I greatly missed them but that I feared for them more greatly still. The world does cruel and hurtful things to us all before it's done with us, and with little more to defend themselves against it than their bags full of clothes and their boxes full of rock records, coat hangers, hockey sticks, it was out into that would that they went. The adventures that they have had since are theirs to tell, not mine, but insofar as from time to time the world has worked them over as it works us all over, I have suffered vastly more from such pain as they have known than I have ever suffered from any pain simply of my own. As Buddha well knew, that is the price that love exacts from us all, but since from childhood I have always been given to helpless brooding and worrying and darkest, most doom-ridden imagining, the price it has exacted from me has often proved crippling both to myself and to the ones I love.

Love is a key concept in Buddhism and Christianity both, needless to say. Buddhism, in the long run, seems to come out against it except in the sense of something like upekha, which is a love so vast and passionless, so disembodied and impartial, that it ceases to resemble the Christian form in any very apparent way. Buddhism, comes out against it not just for one's own sake in the sense that to love another is to open the door to a whole new realm of vulnerability and suffering for oneself, but for the sake of the other also in the sense that unless we can break all the fetters, including love, which bind us to the wheel of rebirth, we can never achieve that Nirvana-like state of selfless detachment which is the only state in which we can be of any real use toward helping others to achieve it. Bloodless, remote, and mythical as these Buddhist insights are apt to seem from a Christian perspective, they are nonetheless greatly useful, I think, in deepening our understating of love in a Christian sense.

That to love other people is to suffer when they suffer is a truth of life which Christianity recognises no less than Buddhism does. It is a truth which has much to do, of course, with what the Cross is all about. To say that Christ takes upon himself the sins of the world is to say that he takes upon himself the suffering of the world too. It is to say that in a sense his suffering on the Cross continues for as long as any of us suffers. Furthermore, in being called to take up our own crosses and follow him, we are called to participate in his suffering. But unlike Buddhism, Christianity nevertheless affirms this love that suffers and, what is more, affirms it not in spite of the fact that it suffers but because of it. It affirms it for the reason that to love others to the point of suffering with them and for them in their own suffering is the only way ultimately to heal them, redeem them, if they are to be redeemed at all. It is God's way in Christ, and as we are called to participate with Christ in his suffering, so we are called to be partners with him in his work of redemption. For our own sakes as well as for theirs, we are called to be Christs to all humankind, in other words, and that is close to the heart of our faith and of our lives together as Christians.

And yet. And yet. Having spoken this Christian truth, we must also, I think, remember the Buddhist truth which may be closer to it than at first glance it appears. If love is a matter of hold fast to, and identifying with, and suffering for, the ones we love, it is a matter also of standing back from, of leaving space for, of letting go of. To become, through loving and needing them, as involved in the lives of others as I was involved in the lives of my children is in the long run to risk being both crippled and crippling. Because we love our children as helplessly as we do, they have the power to destroy us. We must not let them, for their own sakes no less than for our own. A distance must be kept - not just from our children but from everyone we love. I think of the Buddha sitting under his Bo-tree with his eyes closed upon an inner peace which he would not permit even his great compassion to disturb. I think of the staff of the East Harlem Protestant Parish with the pale northern blue of their compassion, their sad gaiety, their utter lack of sentimentality. I think of Jesus himself, who in the profoundest sense bled for people but was never what is meant by 'a bleeding heart'; who did what he could for the sick and suffering who came his way and then moved on; who wept for Jerusalem but let Jerusalem choose its own way; who kept his own mother at arm's length and, when Mary Magdalen reached out to embrace him at the end, said, 'Do not touch me.'

We are to love one another as God has loved us. That is the truth of it. But to love one another more than God has loved us - to love one another at the expense of our own freedom to be something like whole and at peace within ourselves, and at the expense of others' freedom too - is the dark shadow that the truth casts. This is what I started to learn when Katherine and Dinah went away to school in 1975 and launched forth on lives of their own. What event could have been less earthshaking? Yet for me it shook the very foundations themselves and marked the beginning of a new leg of the journey which I am in the midst of still."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Letting it in

Buddha sits enthroned beneath the Bo-tree in the lotus position. His lips are faintly parted in the smile of one who has passed beyond every power in earth or heaven to touch him. "He who loves fifty has fifty woes, he who loves ten has ten woes, he who loves none has no woes," he has said. His eyes are closed.

Christ, on the other hand, stands in the garden of Gethsemane, angular, beleaguered. His face is lost in shadows so that you can't even see his lips, and before all the powers in earth and heaven he is powerless. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you," he said. His eyes are also closed.

The difference seems to me this. The suffering that Buddha's eyes close out is the suffering of the world that Christ's eyes close in and hallow. It is an extraordinary difference, and even in a bare classroom in Exeter, New Hampshire, I think it was as apparent to everyone as it was to me that before you're done, you have to make a crucial and extraordinary choice.

Now and then - Buechner

In January of that first winter in Exeter, our first child was born. She was a girl, to be named Katherine after my mother, and to the last of my days I will remember that first of hers. I had been up all night. Sometime after dawn they told me I could come see her. I was shown down a long, empty corridor. A nurse held her up to the plate-glass window so that I could look at her from where I stood on the other side of it. Her face was puffy and flushed, her eyes swollen shut as though she had just come through some sort of punishing battle, which of course she had. I remember thinking that all my past and Judy's past and the past of all the people I had loved most in my life were caught up in her and that from that moment forward my life would never be the same again, as indeed it never has. She looked beat-up and exhausted. I think she was sleeping. With the glass between us, I could not touch her. She weighed less than my briefcase. She was the hope of the world. Tears leapt to my eyes as if I had been struck. 
"He who loves fifty has fifty woes. . . who loves none has no woe," said the Buddha, and it is true. To love another, as you love a child, is to become vulnerable in a whole new way. It is no longer only through what happens to yourself that the world can hurt you but through what happens to the one you love also and greatly more hurtingly. When it comes to your own hurt, there are always things you can do. You can put up a brave front, for one, and behind that front, if you are lucky, if you persist, you can become a little brave inside yourself. You can become strong in the broken places, as Hemingway said. You can become philosophical, recognizing how much of your troubles you have brought down on your own head and resolving to do better by yourself in the future. Like King Lear on the heath, you can become compassionate. Like the whiskey priest, you can become a saint. But when it comes to the hurt of a child you love, you are all but helpless. The child makes terrible mistakes, and there is very little you can do to ease his pain, especially when you are so often a part of his pain as the child is also part of yours. There is no way to make him strong with such strengths as you may have found through your own hurt, or wise through such wisdom, and even if there were, it would be the wrong way because it would be your way, not his. The child's pain becomes your pain, and as the innocent by-stander, maybe it is even a worse pain for you, and in the long run even the bravest front is not much use.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sun Kil Moon - Gentle Moon

Woah - this is so yum.

Perfect driving song. Or fishing. Or drinking. Or walking. Or thinking. Or getting married.

Listen to that guitar.

(Can someone tell me why this isn't on spotify?)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Don't Leave - Ane Brun (Live in Stockholm)

I posted this song a few years ago. Here it is again, live from a performance at the Cirkus in Stockholm.

Listen out for the the band's treatment of this stanza, the heart of the song:

I am here, here now.
I am right here, by your side.
I'll lay my hand on the couch, next to yours.
You can hold it, if you would like to.
It will do you good.

So simple.

This is for Fie.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Sylvan Esso - Coffee

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww shiiiiiitttttttttttttttttttttttt.

Get up, get down.
Feel the turn of rotation and stop
See the next one waiting
Get up, get down
Get up
Sentiment's the same but the pair of feet change.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tallest Man On Earth has written a song... oh yes.

We were travellers, so blind
Went to where the world did end
Read of deaths in waves and out
So this is when we walked away

And the sadness I suppose
Gonna hold me to the ground
Where I'm forced to find the still
In a place you won't be 'round

Was I ever part of knowing
With your hands in mine
Little screams into the wonder
And a wild set of rides

Come on, come on

And so here I go again
Say I want my freedom sure
But it's like end of all the dreams
Like in my life I needed more

And this madness I suppose
Gonna haunt me with the line
That I could drink until I sleep
Through all scarier times

Was I ever part of knowing
With your hands in mine
Little screams into the wonder
And a wild set of rides

Come on, come on

Now was I ever going to be more than these savages in me
As they will sing into silence, just to silence tears
Now what is left in here?
It's not the sting of cities flickering in life no
It's not me knowing there's a deeper in the dust no
It's not the reasoning with shadows that are gone no

It's not me knowing I'm yet to see fire
It's just all this fucking doubt

Come on, come on

And this silence I suppose
Gonna hold me to the ground
Where I'm forced to find the still
In a place you won't be 'round

Ralegh Long - Love Kills All Fears

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Letter to Benjamin - Buechner

Dear Benjamin,

When you were born this summer in Burlington, Vermont, your father decided to ask a few of us, rather than to give you something on the order of a silver rattle or teething ring, to write you a letter that you are to open on your twenty-first birthday, August 25, 2015, which happens to fall on a Tuesday. It sounded like a good idea when he suggested it, and it sounds like a good idea still, but you can't imagine how I've struggled over it. I am your grandfather, after all. I should have some extra special things to say, and so I like to think I have, but the problem is how to decide which ones to put in and which ones to leave out, where to start and where to stop. My vision of your birthday itself keeps getting in the way.

As I see it, your parents have taken a private room in a good restaurant somewhere. Everybody is wearing evening clothes. Dinner has been eaten. Toasts have been proposed over dessert and coffee. The historic letters have been brought out in a cardboard box. You decide it might be entertaining to read a few of them out loud. You happen to pick out mine. What words of wisdom will it contain? What grandfatherly advice about the future? What revelations about the ancestral past? The prospect paralyzes me. If I am lucky enough to be there in the flesh, age eighty-nine, I will twitch with apprehension as you open the envelope. If I am there as a ghost, I will be tempted to drift out of the open window like a wisp of cigar smoke. How much less painful to give you a silver rattle. But a promise is a promise. I will do the best I can. I will forget about trying to be wise and grandfatherly. I will simply tell you a few of the things that seem important to me as I start writing this on the morning of Saturday, the 21st of October, 1994.

So I will start out once again with Dear Benjamin because it contains two important truths. The first is that you are indeed Benjamin, and the second is that to me you are indeed dear even though I hardly know you yet because at this point, when you are barely two months old, there really isn't much of you to know. You are dear because a little of my blood is in your veins, and therefore, as the old song goes, even when my song is over and done with, some echo at least of the melody will linger on in you. And you are dear because so many of the people I have loved in my life are somehow or other present in the genetic bouillabaisse of who you are even though you will know about many of them, if you know about them at all, only as names or old photographs in an album. Dear Benjamin.

When I look at those photographs myself—the earliest go back as far as my great-great- (your great-great-great-great-!) grandparents, who were born in the opening years of the nineteenth century some two hundred years ago as I write—I wonder who on earth they were. I've picked up a scrap or two about a few of them.

My great-great-grandfather Isaac Golay on my mother's side, for instance. The picture I have shows him sitting in a chair with his left arm resting awkwardly on a table covered with a patterned shawl. He is wearing a frock coat that looks at least two sizes too big for him and has sleeves that come down over his knuckles. He is bald on top and seems to have brushed some of the side hair over his forehead a little to make him appear less so. He has impressive pouches under his eyes and is gazing out not quite directly at the camera with his brow slightly contracted and his lips drawn tight as though the photographer has just told him that if he so much as breathes for the next five minutes, the exposure will be completely ruined. He was a French Swiss who ran a jewelry business on the ground floor of his house in Geneva assisted by his wife, whose picture in a voluminous dress with a little bonnet tied under her chin is next to his in the album.

Her name was Rose Besancon Golay, she was of Huguenot descent, and the story is that she was more highly born than her husband and never let him forget it. Her photograph lends support to the theory. It shows her with clenched jaws looking at the camera out of the corner of her eyes with an expression of darkest suspicion. In response, perhaps, to the photographer's suggestion, she is trying to crank up a smile but has succeeded only in looking as mad as a wet French hen of Huguenot descent. Her chair is much grander than her husband's, as befits her station, and her left arm, like his, is resting on a table, except that on this one there are also two books, a very large one with another, much smaller, on top of it. You get the impression that if the photographer had been bold enough with that terrible glance upon h i m to suggest that she give her smile another try, she would have winged them both at him and in all likelihood would have scored a couple of bull's-eyes. But who knows what she and old Isaac were really like and what was going on inside them at the moment when the shutter snapped? All I can tell you is what little I picked up as the one member of my generation who was ever especially interested in such matters. And if this were a book instead of a birthday letter, who knows how long I would rattle on about them.

I would tell you, I'm sure, about my two grandmothers - about Naya, who spoke in shimmering paragraphs and was the one safe haven of my storm-tossed childhood, and about Grandma Buechner, who called a spade a spade and survived a series of family tragedies with a strength that I'm sure helped me survive them too although at the time I barely suspected it. I might tell you too about my great-great-grandfather Achazius Stehlin on my father's side, born in 1808, who gave up the idea of entering the priesthood for the law and became vice president of the short lived Republic of Baden after the revolution of 1848, which, when it failed, led to his being condemned to death and sent to prison which he managed to escape for France and subsequently Brooklyn, New York, where upstairs in the saloon he ran (which his granddaughter, who was my grandmother, carefully explained was not a saloon in the vulgar sense but more of a club) he started what may have been the first German theater in America. And I would probably say a word or two about my great-grandmother Elizabeth Eimbke Buechner, who, when her dying husband complained about the noise she was making in his room with the carpet sweeper, is reported to have made a reply that has been enshrined in family legend. "Heute ist Dienstag" is what she said, which means "Today is Tuesday," because Tuesday was her day for sweeping the carpet no matter what. Today happens to be Tuesday too. The sun is bright, and the sky is blue. Most of the autumn leaves have fallen, and the ones that are left on the trees are mostly rust-colored with here and there a feathering of lemon yellow. It is on the cool side, but our two dachshunds—Otto the Irrepressible and his uncle, Klaus the Long-suffering—seem perfectly comfortable dozing in the sun where the leaves lie thick and unraked. Last week as I drove along the unpaved West Pawlet road with the sun shining through them, they were as nearly golden as anything can be without being gold. They glistened and dazzled like the walls and vaulted ceiling of some great Arc de Triomphe so that I had no choice but to stop thinking about whatever I was thinking about and to think about them instead, less to think about them than just to lose myself in them. Did Achazius Stehlin, hot-footing it out of France one jump ahead of the posse, ever see leaves like that? Did Rose Besancon Golay ever catch a glimpse of them through the jewelry shop's grilled window, or did great-grandfather August Buechner at least hear them rustling maybe in between sweeps of the carpet sweeper? I like to believe so, but how can I ever know? I am appalled by how little I know even about my own grandfathers.

My grandfather Buechner died when I was ten, only a few days after the death of his oldest son, my father. He was a dapper old gentleman who loved fine clothes, fine food, good wine, and when his children were little loved taking them on walks through Central Park and showing them around museums. When his silk-importing business went under in 1929, he was more or less wiped out, and for the rest of his life the family had to live on his wife's inheritance, which wasn't easy for him and probably explains why in almost every memory I have of him he is holding a drink in his hand and not saying much. He and my grandmother lived for years in an apartment at 940 Park Avenue in New York, and once when I was spending the night there as a little boy, I found myself sleeping in a bed that for some reason had been made up without sheets, an event so unprecedented and confusing that, not knowing what else to do, I started to cry. My grandfather must have heard me as he passed by in the hall because all of a sudden there he was at my bedside in the dark asking me what the trouble was, and when I told him about the sheets, he said that once when he was about my age he had had to spend a night in a tree, where of course he had no sheets either. Since he had survived that experience no worse for wear, he said, he was sure that I would survive too. It gave me something else to think about anyway, and as far as I can remember that brief exchange was the nearest thing to a close encounter the two of us ever had. But if only I had gone further with it. If only I had asked him to tell me why he had spent the night in a tree. If only I had asked him to tell me more about himself. But I'm sure such questions never so much as crossed my mind at that age, and even if they had, I would never have dared ask them.

I was twenty-one years old, your age, when my grandfather Kuhn died—he was eighty-one—but although I saw a lot of him over the years, I never got to know h i m very well either. He was a shy, private sort of man, bald as an egg with liver spots on his shiny scalp, and a scruffy gray mustache, and a little pink papilloma round as a jellybean over one eyebrow. He not only loved my grandmother, Naya, but enormously admired her wit and eloquence and always let her do most of the talking. I remember him sitting in the living room listening to the news of World War II on the radio with his straw hat on. He used to tell how when he was a young man he had eaten some black raspberries once in Somerset, Kentucky. He said they had made him so sick that he had never eaten black raspberries again, and for the rest of his life if he ever saw anybody else eating anything that struck him as questionable, he had only to intone Somerset, Kentucky, a couple of times in a baleful voice, and everybody knew exactly what he meant. I remember he hated to see my mother and her sister, Ruth, wearing jewelry for some reason, and when they were in a certain mood, they would tease him about it and to show their power over him would make him kiss their earrings. When my mother eloped with my father in 1922, he was so furious that he refused to see her for three or four years and had all the pictures of her put away and wouldn't allow anyone to mention her in his presence. He eventually relented, of course, and he and my father became friends although I can't remember ever seeing the two of them together or hearing him speak my father's name. Except once.

I must have been about fifteen or so and we were sitting on a screened porch in Tryon, North Carolina, when out of the blue he addressed me not as Buzzfuzz, which was what he had always called me before for some long forgotten reason, and not as Freddy, which was what just about everybody else called me, but as Fred, which was not so much my name as it had been my father's. The moment lasted no time at all, but I remember feeling that by using that name he was coming as close as he ever did to telling me that he was sorry—sorry that my father had died so young and sorry also for me. If only I had been able to press him further, but of course I wasn't and didn't, and since no such moment ever occurred between us again, he remained almost as shadowy a figure as my grandfather Buechner was.

But even if things had turned out otherwise, I wonder if it would have made any great difference. Even if my grandfathers had been less shadowy and I had been less timid, I wonder if I would ever have been able to learn from them what I would give so much to know now about who they were, both for its own sake and also for the sake of learning something more about who I am myself. Even if I were to stretch this letter out, God forbid, to a thousand pages, would I ever be able to convey my full story to you? I suspect the answer is no. I suspect that our stories in their fullness will always be hidden from each other and that all those whiskered old men and bonneted old women looking out at us from their photographs in the family album will always remain mysteries to us even if, like me, they happen to have written their memoirs. And yet I believe that all is not lost. Maybe we can never know each other's stories i n their fullness, but I believe we can know them in their depth for the reason that in their depth we all have the same story.

Whether we're rich or poor, male or female, a nineteenth-century Swiss jeweler like Isaac Golay in his oversized frock coat, or a twentieth-century American clergyman like me with a penchant for writing books, or a young squirt celebrating his twenty-first birthday in the twenty-first century like you, our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.

I sense a growing restlessness among the birthday guests. One of them keeps rolling up and unrolling a napkin. Another is glancing around the table wondering if it would be seemly to ask the waiter for an after-dinner drink. So enough of all this. Let's have another drink all around, this time on me, and as I raise my glass—whether I'm there in the flesh to do it or only as a benevolent ghost—my birthday wish is that after wandering through many a street for many a long year to come, you may find your way at last to the fountain in the square.

With love from your grandfather.

Friday, June 05, 2015

If ye love me - a reflection

If ye love me
Keep my commandments

If you love the example that I am, do as I do. Seek to be a Christ to others in the same way I am a Christ for you.

And I will pray the father
And He shall give you another Comforter

By seeking to be a Christ, I will give you (or through our relationship, you will find) a ‘self’ to be. And this self will feel like... home.

That he may abide with you forever
Even the spirit of Truth

This true, integrated, self, will feed you, forever. As you live the truth of who you are in the world.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Six impossible things before breakfast

Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  

- Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland

Mr Clive James - A man in search of a home.

It may not come to this, but if I should
Fail to survive this year of feebleness
Which irks me so and may have killed for good
Whatever gift I had for quick success -
For I could talk an hour alone on stage
And mostly make it up along the way,
But now when I compose a single page
Of double-spaced it takes me half the day -
If I, that is, should finally succumb
To these infirmities I'm slow to learn
The names of lest my brain be rendered numb
With boredom even as I toss and turn,
Then send my ashes home, where they can fall
In their own sweet time from the harbour wall.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Here we go riff

Alright bitches, try not to bop your head to this one.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Kate Rusby - My Young Man

That northern accent. And that brass...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The search to be human

'Whether we're rich or poor, male or female, a nineteenth century Swiss jeweller like Isaac Golay in his oversized frock coat, or a twentieth century american clergyman like me with a penchant for writing books, or a young squirt celebrating his twenty-first birthday in the twenty-first century like you, our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be, and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.'

'Letter to Benjamin' - from The Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hidden Orchestra - Night Walks on Vinyl

So this mix by Edinburgh jazz/electro/dj/god knows/fusion guys Hidden Orchestra is changing my life.

Go music Go!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Coldplay & Jon Hopkins - Escape/Light Through The Vines

All Coldplay did was add lyics to this already beautiful track by Jon Hopkins. I'd like to say they ruined it. But I think this Coldplay's dreamy melancholic mantra gives it an extra layer of depth. 'And, in the end, we lie awake, and dream of making escape.' Yum

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eric Whitacre - Sleep

If ever there were a reason to buy some good quality headphones, this surely is it. The harmonies in this piece are at times a little too rutteresque for my liking. But those basses are killing it, and the discord in the alto and trebles makes me catch my breath.

Thursday, January 15, 2015