mindGrazing

chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Archive for February, 2009

Lent is Almost Upon Us

Posted by Jason on February 23, 2009

Ash Wednesday is coming up in a couple of days, so I thought I’d share this little blurb I was asked to write for our church’s Lenten devotional that they put out every year. I was assigned a little reflection on Psalm 135. Wifey says I should be a pastor. I say sure, another few years of school to move to a different career where wages are low and workload is high… sounds awesome! Anywho, maybe this will help someone get in the mood for Lent. Enjoy…
“Psalm 135 calls us to praise the Lord for all He has done. The Psalmist recounts a series of acts through which the Almighty has shown favor and faithfulness to the people of Israel. Lent is a time of anticipation and of praise. Even in difficult times, we know God will be faithful just as He has been time and time again. Lent provides for this because of the palpable anticipation of Easter, God’s most perfect act of love and faithfulness toward all humankind.
In our lives, Lent is an excellent time of year to evaluate ourselves and our walk with Christ. It is a time for thankfulness and reflection. Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going? Perhaps through this reflection we will find that the culling of unfruitful things is not necessarily what will get us to the place with Christ where we want to be. Perhaps we need to add things to our lives that are righteous and that further our growth in the Spirit.
This year during Lent, let us heed the message we find in Psalm 135. Let us praise the Lord and give thanks for all He has done in our lives and the life of our church. Let us also not forget that our faithfulness in trying times is as important as the Lord’s.”

Peace.

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Posted in Musings, religion, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

February 2009 UPDATE: Coast Live Oak

Posted by Jason on February 19, 2009

I cleaned out some of the little branches I know I won’t need later on. I got rid of some of the real strong upper branches in hopes that the lower branches, which need to be thicker and longer, will start growing more vigorously in the coming spring. We have maybe a few more weeks of possible raininess, but it’s already starting to get warmer. New buds are already starting to pop out from the ends of branches, so it’s a good time to do a little bit of selective pruning. 

 

Oakie, thinned out a little bit.

Oakie, thinned out a little bit.

If you click on the picture and view the larger version, you’ll see that some leaves are brown on the edges. I’m not too worried about this. I think the young leaves got scorched when we had a real hot spell in November/December and they didn’t have a chance to harden off before the heat. 

I also removed a lot of the moss around this tree to aid with better drainage and to allow more of the water to be directed to the actual tree. Coast Live Oaks really don’t like to have too much water around and the drainage has to be very good. The moss kinda messes with this and eventually I’ll get rid of it all.

In a couple months, there should be a whole lot more growth and you’ll have another update. Until then!

Posted in Bonsai | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Creating Original, Timeless Blog Content

Posted by Jason on February 18, 2009

Before I started writing this blog, I read several posts about how to create a successful blog, etc. One thing that hit me then was the need to create original, relevant content. If you merely comment on stuff that happened in the news yesterday, your blog is bound to be forgotten and the only way to keep up your number of hits which, if your blog is anything like mine, isn’t a very large number.

I used to post every day or maybe even multiple times per day, but since the beginning of the year I haven’t really been feeling it too much. Granted my big blogging frenzy only lasted about 2 and a half months, but I think there’s been a change in my ideas about blogging philosophy. It’s hasn’t really been nagging me: I’m not distraught over my lack of bloggage lately. But I did realize that my past blogging has really not been too much of the original, timeless type of writing. I have some things that are meant to be educational and truly not just current events, but not nearly enough of them.

I’ve been in a vicious cycle of reactionary writing. I tended to read many blogs throughout the wordpress world in which the authors write about stuff that they’ve read on someone else’s blog, which was written in response to something else, and so on and so on. 

It’s very difficult to come up with things that you think someone might want to read on a regular basis. It’s far easier to read a bunch of blogs and comment and write your blog in response to what other people are writing. That’s why there’s billions of blogs out there that are really quite lame and uninteresting to read. People find it very difficult to come up with original ideas, but find it very easy to regurgitate or repudiate what they find in elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Now, does that mean I have the answer to writing great blog content that is relevant, yet timeless? Obviously not because I’m still working a full-time job and not getting a penny for my thoughts. So how about this? I challenge all two of you that faithfully read this blog to hold me accountable to not write crap that no one will care about tomorrow or next week. Let’s all try to write good stuff that someone might actually want to read at least two weeks past the date of publishing!

Posted in Musings, writing | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Intro to Flamenco

Posted by Jason on February 6, 2009

Most people have heard of flamenco music at some point in their lives, but many truly do not understand what this wonderful music is all about. As many people know, flamenco music comes from Spain and includes guitar, singing and dance. However, one thing that is not well known is that all Spanish music is not flamenco. Furthermore, all Spanish music played on the guitar is not necessarily flamenco. In fact, most Spanish guitar music that we hear in the United States is NOT flamenco, but rather classical music.

So what do most of us know about flamenco music over here in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Gypsy Kings, Ottmar Liebert, and Jesse Cook are probably a few of the names that come to mind when we start talking about flamenco. All guitar players, none of them quite play flamenco music. The Gypsy Kings are probably the closest thing to flamenco, but they take only one tiny sliver of flamenco styles (the rumba flamenca) and use that winning formula like crazy to make some big bucks. Ottmar Liebert is basically a smooth jazz guitarist that has taken some scales to make his “jazz” sound a little Spanish and PRESTO! We have “flamenco nuevo,” which is pretty much crap. Jesse Cook makes me want to puke. If Gypsy Kings and Ottmar Liebert had a bastard musical love child, it would be this guy. He’s a watered down version of already watered down versions of flamenco. It’s pop jacuzzi jazz rumba fusion-lite, and above all it’s NOT flamenco. Don’t be fooled, people.

So what is flamenco, then? At the very core of flamenco is singing, or cante. Flamenco singing is not largely known about in the states because it’s not very marketable. It is gutteral, loud, and uses a lot of notes between notes that sound like they’re off-key to most western ears. It is a singing born out of suffering and oppression; it is raw and harsh. Flamenco started out as marginalized gypsies bore inhumane working conditions in a foreign land. They had to work in mines or fields for little pay and no say in how they were treated. The first songs were work songs or fiesta songs, similar to those of the African-American tradition here in the U.S.

Eventually guitars were added to accompany the singing and they had to cut through the din of tavern patrons and noisy friends. In order to do this, flamenco players mostly strummed and tapped on the tops of their guitars in order for the compound, driving rhythms of flamenco to be heard. From the mid-1800’s to about the 1950’s or 60’s, the guitar was never thought of as a solo instrument, except for little sections and fills called falsetas in between verses of the cante. Sabicas was the first guitarist to really make waves as a solo flamenco player, and others like Manolo Sanlucar and the now-famous Paco de Lucia soon followed. Tomatito and Pepe Habichuela are also in the same vein as the earlier guitarists, and Vicente Amigo is a more modern and less traditional continuation of true flamenco guitarists.

Dance came out as a natural response to the rhythmic complexities and depth in flamenco music, and it is one of the more marketable aspects of the art. Americans would much rather go see a dance and guitar show than singing and guitar. Both the baile (dance) and the toque (guitar) are flashy and exotic sounding. Flamenco singing appeals only to a small group of people that are interested in the emotions and the pain that are at the foundation of the deep song or cante jondo. I don’t think American ears will ever enjoy flamenco singing on a large scale. It’s too raw, too honest. Guitar and dance are much more easily commercialized and watered down with our preferred varieties of easy listening. Even pure flamenco (which is really not quite pure without the song) can be appreciated in the U.S. if it’s guitar and dance.

So, at its core, flamenco is a tradition of folk song born out of a suffering of a marginalized people. Guitars and dance are very important to the art form, but they are not the heart of it. Over here in America, we have embraced the guitar and the dance, as well as corrupted, watered-down versions of each, but we have yet to welcome a strident and raw style of singing. I don’t know that any culture really appreciates the cante very much; even mainstream Spain can’t seem to stomach it in large quantities. Maybe that’s the beauty of it. Nobody has really tried to adopt it and morph it into something sellable, thereby leaving at least some of the flamenco tradition intact.

Posted in flamenco, music, Musings, Spain | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

I have faith, now what?

Posted by Jason on February 4, 2009

Wifey and I have been taking a Methodism 101 class at church, and I must confess that I really didn’t know how Methodist I truly was at my core until Wifey came along and started going to church with me. We had a good conversation on the way to the farmer’s market after our class this Sunday, and I started reading Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” this week. Throughout our conversations and my reading, I finally have something to write about on this blog. It’s been a while.

One of the things we always hear Christians say is that so-and-so is having a crisis of faith, or that somebody has a faith that can move mountains, etc. For me, my faith in the grace of God is a non-question. I know in my heart of hearts, without any doubt whatsoever, that His grace is given freely to me and ALL humans without any precondition, without any worthiness on our part, without any action on our part. Our confession of faith is our personal belief, acceptance, and realization of this grace, and that’s what makes us Christian instead of Buddhist or Muslim or whatever. Knowing that grace is given freely, not because of anything we do, really liberates us as Christians to stop worrying about whether or not we will be saved or if we’ll end up in heaven or hell. It also frees us from worrying whether other people are going to heaven or hell. We don’t have to hound people to get their acts together in order that we may end up in heaven together.

Now, having received that grace and having accepted this wonderful gift into our lives, our response should be to live out our lives in gratitude for that which has been given to us. Most of all, we must be instruments of that freely given love and grace in the world. We do good things not to get ourselves into heaven or to gain the Lord’s favor, but rather BECAUSE these things are already ours.

That being said, I came to the realization last night that my daily life has not included as much thankful living (meaning being a living example of God’s grace) as it could. I think the major reason is that I have not internalized the practice of living thankfully as an adult. I’ve internalized the faith, and it’s a part of me forever. It is welded to my being. However, I need to consciously practice the “living it out” part. Now, I think the feeling will always be that I’m not doing as much as I could. The tendency is to reciprocate the gift that has been given to us. How many people have thought around the holidays, “Shoot, this person’s gift to me was super expensive: I better get them something about as good as what they gave to me?” The problem is that it is impossible to give God or humankind a gift as amazing as that which was given to us. 

As with anything that we want to learn or incorporate into our box of skills or behaviors, we have to practice a lot. this practice must be focused and it must be repeated over and over. Eventually it will become a habit and then it will be internalized as something that we just do. Now, some people will make excuses for me, saying, “Oh, well your act of kindness, Jason, is that you teach music to poor, underprivileged waifs every day,” or “You’ve done such a nice thing by giving  two shelter dogs a good home and a happy life.” Those are great, but they’re not really daily, radical, and intentional manifestations of God’s grace within me. There needs to be more. I need to find some way to consciously and systematically do good in this world each day, perhaps multiple times per day, so that it will eventually become a basic internal function of my existence.

I might try to incorporate one of Wesley’s Means of Grace (Works of Piety; Works of Mercy) each day and see if I can do that. Or I’ll just try to do at least one nice thing each day that I normally wouldn’t do. I’m still formulating a plan of action but the goal is to take action in the world to bring God’s kingdom here, rather than merely look forward to the next life.

Onward, Christian soldier…

Posted in Musings, religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »