John Stott: “An evangelical is a plain, ordinary Christian”

I was saddened to learn today of the death of the Rev. Dr. John R.W. Stott, an Anglican priest, Biblical scholar, and a living example of generous-spirited evangelical Christianity whose ministry will have a lasting impact upon my life, and that of my family for years to come.

In the nascent years of an adult awakening to the reality of Christian discipleship, Stott’s book, “Basic Christianity” provided me with a solid framework for the development of a clear understanding of the power of the Gospel to transform human life radically for the better.

Over the years I have respected Stott’s emphatic concern for evangelicalism to reclaim its heritage of engagement with the social issues of the day. Post modern evangelicals like Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Brian McLaren, stand on the shoulders of this wise and tested pastor and theologian.

I have fond memories of my father, The Rev. Canon David Lord, reading Stott’s The Cross of Christ, what many consider to be Stott’s magnum opus, a summing up of the Anglican evangelical tradition seasoned by the mature characteristics of a “generous orthodoxy.”

John Stott leaves a remarkable legacy for those who seek to follow God in the way of Christ today.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The John R.W. Stott Memorial web site can be found here.

Café Concert: Jason Vieaux

From WQXR the Classical Music Station of NYC:

Until this year, the Curtis Institute of Music, the famed conservatory in Philadelphia, did not regard the guitar as an instrument worthy of a place in its curriculum. When the school changed its policy, it hired Jason Vieaux to co-run a guitar department. This week, Vieaux gave a Café Concert, offering a program that was in some ways a treatise on the guitar’s usefulness, both as solo instrument with an original repertoire, and as a close cousin of rock music and jazz.

Of the former category, Vieaux performed two works by the usual suspects: Sevilla, a tasteful arrangement Isaac Albeniz, and Joropo, an evocative Latin dance piece by the Argentine composer José Merlin (both will be heard in a recital at the Caramoor Festival on July 21). He also switched gears to perform an arrangement of a song by the jazz-guitar legend Pat Metheny, who was the subject of Vieaux’s 2005 album “Images of Metheny.”

Read the full article here.

 

 

Guitarists in the Monastery

“If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practice their craft with all humility, but only with the permission of the abbot” (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 57).

Last week, I spent an extraordinary week at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. This Benedictine community on the banks of the Hudson River was the location of a Classical Guitar Master Class with guitarist Jason Vieaux, of the Cleveland Institute of Music. I was one of eight guitarists and the juxtaposition of praying the daily offices, with periods of intentional silence as well as guitar pedagogy, created an experience I could not have imagined or hoped for. Had there been just the slightest bit more encouragement, I would have presented myself to the abbot for admission to the novitiate.  But I am a man of prior vows!

It’s difficult to describe my experience at the Monastery in any other words than, “life changing.”  I have long been steeped in the core values of the Rule of St. Benedict (e.g. community, prayer, silence,  hospitality, formation, mission), but there is no substitute for living the Benedictine rhythm in community with others.  Add to this, the opportunity to “practice one’s craft with all humility” as Benedict puts it, six or more hours per day with an inspiring musician like Jason Vieaux, and it becomes difficult not to believe that earth at times is overlapped with heaven.

During my time on sabbatical, I have been exploring how music and the creative arts can serve as a regular part of our spiritual practice, and the classical guitar has been a specific focus for me during this period of rest and renewal.  When I explained this exploration to one of the brothers, he smiled and said, “one can pray with their hands as well as their heart.”  Imagine that training the flexor and extensor muscles associated with the right and left hand to produce a clear and warm musical tone can be considered an act of prayer!

That has certainly been my experience recently, summed up in Benedict’s rule as “ora et labora” (pray and work), though I suppose for my purposes it might be adapted as “ora et excerceo” (pray and practice).  What creative gifts or artistic resources might serve as an act of prayer for you?

If you would like to explore more about Holy Cross or Jason Vieaux, here are a few helpful links:

Holy Cross Monastery

Anglican Benedictines

Jason Vieaux

Guitar Foundation of America

 

 

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here.  And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here.

From “The Wild Geese” by Mary Olive

 

My Summer Chapel (I wish!)

Yasas! (Hello!) from the Island of Hydra, Greece. Debbie and I are winding up our final days in this small particle of paradise situated between the Saronic and Argolic gulfs just five miles from the Pelaponnesian coast.

In the mornings we have enjoyed coffee and the arts (me at the guitar, Debbie drawing with pastels), while beholding the magnificent view of the Port of Hydra from Frances Sullinger’s lovely small villa high atop the elevation above. We’ve walked around the narrow and colorful alleys, climbed up and down the stone built steps that lead to extraordinary views of the port and the sights and sounds of markets and cafés that line the quay.

Mary Oliver’s wonderful poem reminds us that the life of faith is really one of learning to see – to apprehend the sacred beauty of the world we live in right where we are. “What we need is here.”  In the midst of our busy routines, we question this assertion. Is this mere wishful thinking?  But when St. Paul writes, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being,” he is not handing on a theological abstraction, but a reminder that we live in world suffused by the presence of God, if only the eyes of our hearts would see it.

Places of exceptional beauty, like Hydra, offer us intense moments of clarity and awe, but I believe these moments are meant to help us improve our capacity to recognize the beauty and clarity that are present in the ordinary routine of daily life. Oliver has it right – we don’t need to pray for a new earth or heaven, but for a more contemplative approach to the living of our days. My time on Hydra has strengthened my conviction that this is possible and true.

Next week, I travel to Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York for a week long Master Class in Classical Guitar with a true master of the instrument, Jason Vieaux. There are only eight of us in the class, which means, like it or not, my playing will be subject to a lot of scrutiny. I keep saying to myself that this will be a good thing. If not, I can always hide out with the brothers and stick to my prayers.

Sabbatical – Hydra, Greece

View from our Porch overlooking the Harbor

Yahsu! from the Saronic Gulf Island of Hydra.  I am currently on planned sabbatical leave from active parish ministry.  A return visit to the Greek island of Hydra, one of the easiest islands to get to from Athens, has been high on my list. My wife Debbie and I, along with our children, stayed hear eight years ago for a week’s vacation thanks to the hospitality of our friend, Frances Sullinger, who owns a small villa here.

We were unable to get a ferry from the main harbor of Piraeus during the political unrest and general strike constantly covered by the major cable news networks last week. Times are tough for the Greek people and frustration at their predicament has escalated to flashes of civil unrest in the streets.

I was astonished to learn that Greece has a sovereign debt pile of 340 billion euros ($480 billion), more than 30,000 euros for each of its 11.3 million people.  With its debt equivalent to 150 percent of annual output, Greece holds two unwanted world records: the lowest credit rating for a sovereign state, and the most expensive debt to insure. Its people have lost patience with an ever-deepening austerity drive that has slashed public sector wages by a fifth and pensions by a tenth.  Needless to say, we breathed a sigh of relief when we finally boarded the ferry to the glorious island of Hydra.

Refreshment at a harbor cafe

Hydra’s small port village is a breathtaking sight. It’s small harbor is ringed with cafes, restaurants and shops, and followed by a village of stone houses and villas, tiny squares that rise up the hills like an amphitheater.

 

Luggage is on its way

On Hydra there are no cars. Everything is moved by donkey, including groceries, building supplies, people and their luggage.  Our friend’s villa involves a significant hike up the mountain from the port, but offers a spectacular view of the harbor below.

 

I’ve had wonderful uninterrupted time to work on guitar repertoire and Debbie has been painting with pastel and watercolor to capture some of the pervasive beauty that surrounds us on every side.

Guitar as contemplative practice!

We’ve learned that Leonard Cohen has a home here and that Hydra has been a destination for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pink Floyd and many other famous and not so famous people.

What has been constant is the graciousness and generosity of the Greek people we have met here.  In spite of the economic hardships they continue to face, their spirit is strong and lively, and we are grateful to be among them.