Also known as “Dave Gets Deep,” this section includes reflections on art, life, and the human condition.

Like father, like son. But not really.

Sometimes someone crosses your path and you connect for reasons you can’t explain.  So… there’s this guy.  Gabe.  I’ll write more about him someday, I’m sure, but now isn’t the time.  (We have a class to prepare for.)

For today, on his 16th birthday, here’s our relationship boiled down into one 6-minute song.  Happy birthday, Gabe.  For what it’s worth, I consider you to be the son I never knew I wanted.

(And here’s a YouTube video of me performing the piece with some of Gabe’s friends at my 2017 Spring Studio Showcase.)

“More”

Out of nowhere you sat down beside me:
shoulder to shoulder, and somehow heart to heart.
I didn’t know what I had found in you when you found me—
only that moment was only a start.

Over coffee and under a deadline,
saving a grade and building a rapport,
moment by moment, learning how wrong I was to never want a son,
finding that now I just want more:

I want more days of laughter, more nights of hearts opened wide.
I want more miles of driving with you there along for the ride.
More chances to fail, more honest “I’m sorry”s,
More “you made my day” kind of smiles.
If a father could ever have chosen a son,
I’d have taken a pass until you came along.
The “how did we get here” and “what happens now” is unsure.
But with each day that passes with you in my life,
I’m just grateful I’ve gotten to know you more.

Sharing secrets and trading tough questions—
how to be human, how to be men—
mentor and mentored, each of us taking turns to teach and learn,
an odd kind of family, the best kind of friends.

I still want more days of laughter, more nights of hearts opened wide.
I want more miles of driving with you there along for the ride.
More chances to fail, more honest “I’m sorry”s,
More “man, I missed you” kind of smiles.
Any day that I see you’s a beautiful day,
and “I’ll see you tomorrow”’s the best thing you say.
The “how did we get here” and “what happens now” is unsure.
But with each day that passes with you in my life,
I’m just grateful I’ve gotten to know you more.

I want more days of laughter, more nights of hearts opened wide.
I want more miles of driving with me just along for the ride.
More chances to fail, more honest “I’m sorry”s,
More “can’t find the words” kind of smiles.
I promise, there’s one thing you can be sure of:
your life will know many who offer you love,
and someday you’ll find one you’d give up your whole life for.
Other loves will feel deeper, or newer, or stronger.
There are already those who have loved you much longer,
But nobody ever, as long as I live, I promise you this, will love you more.

©2017 David M. Glasgow (ASCAP)

I can’t.  I’m sorry.  Basta.  I’ve tried, but I can’t.

I just can’t keep the brave face on all the time.  I can’t have the right words at the ready all the time.  Sometimes I can’t keep the wrong words from spewing out of my mouth (or, more likely, my fingers) in a moment of anger.  I don’t always remember to check my sources, and I’m actually pretty lousy at assuming positive intent in difficult conversations.  Hell, sometimes I can’t even summon the courage just to smile at strangers.  Sometimes even a frickin’ smile, a 16-muscle acknowledgement of shared humanity, feels like too much effort to offer the world.

I can’t be the person I wish I were.  I’ve tried.  But I can’t.

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like the “good guys” were profoundly outnumbered overpowered.  Students and colleagues and acquaintances that I know to be optimistic, hard-working people with good hearts and souls, struggled to peer out through a kind of sadness, of fatigue.  Snarky half-attempts at humor were delivered through lips-only smiles, while eyes pleaded for encouragement, for comfort, for strength.

At least, I know that’s why my eyes were pleading for.

I lay in bed last night for hours, staring at the ceiling and wondering how in the name of anything I could make a difference—how I could resist the oppressors, how I could be an ally to the oppressed in more than name and token.  But most of all I lay there feeling guilty because I. am. just. so. damn. tired.

It doesn’t seem fair—and to my friends in minority communities, this paragraph of privileged whining may be one you want to skip over—that nice guys seem indeed to finish last.  It doesn’t seem fair that playground bullies seem always to know when the teacher isn’t looking.  It doesn’t seem fair that hoarding power seems so much more effective than sharing it.  It doesn’t seem fair that privilege is blind and love speaks softly and the high road always seems to have way more detours than the low.

I lay there last night wanting to weep, but too tired even to do that, feeling useless and helpless and ashamed of my apparent inability to use my vast privilege for anything other than self-pity.

But this morning, with the rising sun struggling to break through the Pennsylvania fog and the finches calling blindly to one another in the January air, I had an epiphany of sorts.

A prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi asks:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

I love that prayer.  But this morning I realized that there’s something missing from Francis’s list.  So as of today, I pledge:

Where there is fear, I will sow gratitude.

Because while fear paralyzes, gratitude empowers.  While fear excludes, gratitude invites.  While fear clutches, gratitude opens.  And while fear shouts, gratitude whispers.

So I will whisper gratitude.  To one person at a time, one appreciative moment at a time, I will use thanksgiving to drive out fear.  I will do so because it helps me to tear my eyes away from the violently fearful place the world is becoming, and focus on the world I believe is worth saving.  I will do it because hearing words of gratitude can make the difference between a sleepless night of self-pity, and a cared-for soul that is ready to speak truth to power.

There is so much to be grateful for.  And while I can’t always live by my best lights, I can be grateful for the times I do. And more importantly, I can be grateful for the people in my life who remind me of what those best lights are, and how love really does work in the world.  May our gratitude ripple outward and fuel the work that lies ahead.

Closet doorsI should start by saying, I totally get it.  When comfortable white liberals say that Trump voters are not welcome in their homes, or issue self-righteous screeds about how their outrage isn’t about politics—and perhaps especially when dudes who remind me of me in a lot of important ways demand the right to insist other people unfriend them—it’s a struggle for me not to nod my head and click “Like” and jump on the head-in-the-sand, I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-you bandwagon.  It would be easier for me to make it through the day smiling and feeling good about myself if I could just remove all of the “Red Feed” folks from my friends list and see nothing but news I agree with.

Except that’s (at least partially) what got us into this mess to begin with.

I’ve written before about my recognition, during my coming-out process, that as a white, US-native, able-bodied, mainline-Christian-turned-Unitarian-Universalist, upper-middle-class cis male, the “gay card” is really the only strike against me in the Privilege lottery.  I am—like most of the people I encounter in my small-town central-Pennsylvania daily routine—not accustomed to discomfort.  If I’m hungry, I eat.  If I’m cold, I turn up the thermostat.  If I’m lonely, I connect to the WiFi and see who’s online.  And if I see an opinion I disagree with… I shoot it down.  (Not always gently, I’m not proud to say.)

But in the back of my mind, I keep thinking about the note I received from an evangelical Christian friend shortly after I came out publicly at a concert in college (which is another story for another time).  “David,” she said, “I’ve always thought of gay people as dangerous perverts, as something to be afraid of and to fight against.  But now, knowing you’re gay… I know you, and that’s not who you are.  If you’re gay, then what I was taught was wrong.  And I’d like to apologize, if you’ll let me buy you a coffee.”

So here’s where I am now: I don’t believe “unfriending” is the solution.  I don’t believe sheltering ourselves from opinions we disagree with serves the common good.  I don’t believe my comfort is more important than the positive change I can achieve from participating in healthy dialogue.  And, most importantly, I don’t even pretend to believe that the answers I have are all the “right” ones.  I find it as rewarding to realize I’ve allowed honest engagement with other views to change my thinking, as I do when it works the other way around—when I emerge from a conversation feeling like I’ve planted a new seed in someone else’s mind.

I stepped out of one kind of closet more than 20 years ago.  I remember how cozy it was in there, never having to explain myself or apologize for offending people or wonder whether folks were judging me for touching my husband’s shoulder in public.  I appreciate every day that Mark and I share a nice introverted home in a lot outside of town, that serves as a retreat from society, a place of safety and rejuvenation.  And yes, sometimes I joke about staying here and ordering delivery for the next four years, as a kind of “vacation from reality.”

But there’s work to be done.  Conversations to have.  Hearts to connect with.  Minds to change.  And for those of us who have the ability to do these things, a closet is no place to hang out.

There must be something in the air.

Several times this week I’ve paused in the middle of teaching to interrupt a student’s spiral of self-deprecation and frustration.  The spiral is easy to recognize, either by the words that accompany it— “This doesn’t sound right.” … “That note is so high!” … “Why can’t I get this?” —or, once you know what to look for, by the slow-blinking, eyes-downcast head shake and shoulder slump.  It’s unmistakeable body language: “I’m not good enough.”

There’s a running joke in my field that music lessons tend to be 10% technique and 90% therapy.  And while it is a joke—I’m a vocal supporter of the mental health industry and believe everyone can benefit from working periodically with an excellent professional talk therapist—I know that among the lessons I’ve learned from my own therapist are several that I share often with my students:

  • that every artist healthy human being struggles with self-doubt,
  • that finding (and trusting) voices that recognize and appreciate our inherent worth is one of the most important (and most difficult) things we can do as artists humans, and
  • that I, in my role as an authority figure in their artistic lives, am (I hope!) one of those supportive voices.

So pianist Herbie Hancock’s anecdote about a botched chord in a gig with trumpeter Miles Davis has been on my mind a lot this week.  If you’ve hit a wrong note or two in your own life recently, maybe you’ll find this story moving too.  Click “play” on the video below to hear Hancock tell it for himself.  It’s worth the 90 seconds.

In the meantime, namasté, my friends.  The Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you.  Can you see it too?

shot_1411036245972Once a year or so, Rev. Aija lets me take the reins (and the pulpit) for what we call “Music Sunday”—a worship experience that’s all about music, except when it’s not.  Coming up with a theme for Music Sunday is always pretty easy—there’s always a song I’ve wanted to find an excuse for the choir to sing, or a topic I’ve wanted to write a song about, or a story I’ve wanted to tell.  Except for this year.

This year, as America’s democracy seems to have devolved into a battle of mudslinging and “who’s evil-er than whom,” and as ever-improving and ever more ubiquitous technology makes it harder for injustice to disguise itself as rumor or hyperbole, I find myself feeling inadequate.  There is too much wrong with the world for one little sermon or one new choir anthem to fix it.

My prayer habits are quite a bit different now than they used to be, but my spirituality is still one of stubbornly second-person theology: I no longer even pretend to understand fully who or what God really is, but I know it’s not me.  So after struggling for too long to find the right focus for Music Sunday, I threw my hands up and asked the Universe for a hint—and silence was the response.  Not silence-the-absence-of-response silence.  Silence-the-potent-beginnings-of-all-that-is silence.

It started with a Facebook post from a friend of mine:

snap

One line in particular caught my eye, because I hear it a lot from people of color when they express frustration with the “shallow understanding from people of good will” that so often describes the reaction that I and other white allies fumble to manage as we work for justice.  “Have a seat and study some more.”

In other words, shut up and listen.  There are important things to be said, and you need to hear them.

So this Sunday at UUCV we’ll be seeking silence.  Talking about silence.  And singing about silence.  And most importantly, spending more time in silence than nearly any of us are comfortable with, because growth is hardly ever comfortable.

We’ll also be hearing some breathtakingly gorgeous music, of course.  You know I love to show off my little choir, and they are working magic with the Mark Hayes arrangement of “The Sound of Silence”—last night’s rehearsal left me with goosebumps.  Adding Dani and Marc, who will be backing us up on Sunday on drums and bass, will just take things to a whole new level.

We’ll also be premiering a new choral piece I wrote for the occasion, called “Sing It.”  The lyrics follow; I do hope you’ll join us on Sunday at 10:30 AM to hear the choir give it wings—and I hope it moves you to the right kind of silence.

Sermon audio

Choir video

“Sing It”

words & music ©2016 David M. Glasgow

In the silence,
without noise, without words to save the day,
I can hear me, but I’m not sure what to say.
Rage against?  Stand behind?
Play it safe?  Play the hero?
Do I ever say a word that starts inside?
Now I finally have the chance, and I hide.

Then I hear it—
though at first I’m afraid I’m not alone—
soft and clear, it speaks a truth I recognize as my own.
And it speaks, without words, of a strength here within me
that could change the world if only I would try.
So I slowly close my eyes, and breathing deep,

I sing it soft and low and gentle
like the breeze that runs its fingers through my hair.
I sing it deep and true and wordless,
like the beating of a heart that’s always there.
I sing it silently within, and let the music work its magic
in the veins that carry life to every corner of my soul.
When I finally claim the silence,
I sing it gentle.

Eyes are open,
and at last I can see I’m not alone.
You’ve been singing too,
and your spirit harmonizes with my own.
And we sing, and our hearts gather strength here among us
that can change the world if only we will try.
And when we know we’re not alone,

we sing it loud!  We sing it strong!
We sing it boldly from the mountaintop,
and bravely at the coffee shop,
and lovingly to everyone we meet!
Love is born in silence,
but for love to survive,
we must sing it loud!