High in the Cascade Mountains with Martin Luther...

High in the Cascade mountains in a remote spot close to Lake Chelan is a little village called Holden Village. What was once a small mining town is now an ecumenical retreat center in the Lutheran tradition. Here I encountered about 500 people who made the journey to be at Holden for a time of reflection, music, and absorption in one of the most splendid examples of natural beauty this country has to offer. Complete with free roaming deer, bear and an occasional cougar, Holden Village offers many a place of deep renewal of spirit , mind and body.
One delightful surprise for me was to encounter the lively spirit of the Lutheran singing tradition.
As guest composer my role was to lead the gathering in daily sessions of new music and then at the end of the week to accompany the entire congregation in singing my new Celtic Mass. What a joy!
With fiddle, flute, guitar, and drumming these singing Lutherans would have made Martin Luther stand and applaud!
Holden Village - a place of renewing and discovering friendship , an opportunity to reflect on a number of important issues, an expanding community of those seeking to follow Jesus.
One other word about Holden: it is also a place that brings new people to the role of directing the Village every 3-5 years. Interesting point. Every three - five years there is new management in the Village. This kind of leadership allows the present leaders to create their own style and to some extent their own practice while at the same time ensuring that no one person or persons take control of the Village. Clearly a pitfall in many Christian communities, and other organizations as well, is the situation where one or more persons take control of it and stay in control for far too many years suppressing the creativity and leadership of those they "serve".
Holden seems to have created a way for the Village to continue with new and renewing leadership.
Summer Blessings,
Stefan Andre


Homeless in Seattle...

" The birds of the air have nests... but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head". " Go out into the streets and invite the lame, the blind, the cripple, the homeless, the poor..." - the wandering Jesus

Seattle is a thriving American city in many ways. Banking institutions, competing businesses, excellent universities, new technologies, beautiful buildings, fine restaurants, creative music and art enterprises, shops and stores on every corner and of course - really good coffee. Take a walk down 3rd street toward downtown or just walk around the farmer's market near the water and you'll see another reality that helps to define Seattle. Here you will see hundreds of people who are living on the streets much of the time.
" Can you spare some change?" " I haven't eaten in a while."
" Care to buy some batteries. I could use the money."
" I don't mean to bother you, but I need some money for bus fare." As people approach you on the street these are just a few of the things that you'll hear from men and women of all ages and races - faces looking for a generous response.

Today I was struck by the contrast... Around the area known as the Farmers Market down by the water there is a whirl of people walking in and out of shops buying foods, crafts, books, clothing, and all sorts of things . Sitting on the ground or on a bench or lying on the grass sleeping are another group of people. These are not the buyers. These people are without the means to buy the food, the crafts, the books, the coffee, etc... They do something else. They gather. Occasionally you see a person gathering items or food from a rubbish bin or perhaps things left on the ground. They also gather the things they do possess and move from one spot to another.

" Don't over stuff yourself." " I love that shawl." " Table for two, please." " Isn't this lovely?" A different language is heard from those with the means to buy. Between these two groups of people there is very little interaction and very little eye contact and hardly ever any physical contact. In fact it would appear at times that the buyers and takers don't even see the gatherers.

The gatherers however keep the takers in plain view and will approach when necessary.

All of this reminds me of a very important little book about the development of the world as we know it. The book is called " Ishmael". The author is Daniel Quinn. In this book the story of the world is told from the perspective of a gorilla named Ishmael. Ishmael is the teacher who attempts, successfully at times, to teach a human being about the history of the world as it has been played out by two groups of creatures: the takers and the gatherers. The takers take more than they need while the gatherers leave what they don't need . Good reading.

On the streets of Seattle with the Takers and the Gatherers,
Stefan Andre


July 4, 2008 Reflections on Freedom and the Color Orange...

At this moment I am relaxing in a lovely retreat center called Richmond Hill located in the city of Richmond, Virginia. Two streets over is St. John's Episcopal Church where in 1775 Patrick Henry cried out in words that still ring in American ears - " Give me liberty or give me death." So, let's reflect for a moment on the meaning of freedom on this Independence Day, the birthday of the United States. Apologies in advance for my rambling. This question troubles and challenges me and so in an attempt to work through the angst I offer my own musings. I'll begin by simply asking the question, " What is freedom?" With so many people today using the word in so many ways it seems good to have some basic understanding... if possible. According to one source, President Bush in his second inaugural address used the word " freedom" or liberty" 49 times in twenty minutes. Evenly spaced that's more than twice every minute. Hmmm...

Question: What does George W. Bush mean by the word freedom? Do you/I share that meaning?

If we look in Webster's dictionary here's what we get: freedom is "the state or quality of being free". Right. It is the " absence of coercion in choice". Freedom is " liberation from slavery or domination or things onerous." Webster also says that freedom is the capacity to " choose without coercion."

As we try to understand and live freedom in our varied contexts we need to ask even more questions: Freedom from what? Freedom for whom? Freedom to be or do what? There is personal freedom, social freedom, religious freedom, political and economic freedom, intellectual freedom, sexual freedom... The list is endless. Common to all these freedoms is the element of choice. And of course, the consequences of our choosing. Not to mention the boundaries of our wise choosing. Freedom may be said to be the relative victory of choice over coercion and the wise navigating of our choices given the likely effects of our various choices. But what if the choices are rigidly controlled and the necessary information to make good choices is very limited and very difficult to obtain? In U.S. society today our mainstream media seem to be afraid to ask the tough questions and rarely give us in depth reporting on a wide variety of topics. Given the widespread desire in this country to end the Iraq war why not have a media forum on how to do that? Many in Europe and elswhere look at our two-party political system and ask" Where is the real choice?" In that context are we free? And what if our choices seem driven by our internal obsessions, and without by the cultural forces at work in our dominant culture? How free are we?

Ever since September 11, 2001 the color orange has grown in the American consciousness. The threat level is orange. The advisory level is orange. We are on orange alert. I once thought that our national colors were red, white and blue. Now, shades of anxious orange seem to be our national color scheme. As I travel this summer I am repeatedly reminded via public announcements in train stations and airports that I need to be on the alert to "report anyone or anything that seems suspicious". At one such moment in a subway train as the doors closed and the announcement was heard several of us looked around at each other and smiled. I wonder who appeared the more suspicious. I didn't feel very free at that moment. Freedom in any social context seems to require a basic trust in others otherwise one is caught coercively in a fearful mind. Freedom from fear and the freedom to trust appears to be a fundamental requirement for any healthy social interaction and the glue that holds a well functioning society together. But in that little train all crammed together trust was definitely discouraged and we were encouraged by way of a public political warning to look at each other as potential objects of fear. How free are we? Against the backdrop of orange anxiety are we free to trust , to relax, to enjoy each other, not to mention the ride? Is such a climate of fear conducive to building human happiness?

George Orwell once wrote about a futuristic society that would distort the original and essential meanings of certain words . Such words as freedom would be used to diminish and eventually eliminate the reality of freedom itself. In the name of freedom , freedom is destroyed. Are we all that far from that society now? And in a sense is this anything new? Didn't Jesus encounter the same kind of misuse of language and meaning in his day? Did he not work to reclaim the essential meanings of such words as freedom, neighbor, faith, even the word God? Clearly , at that time with the people Jesus encountered, he did everything possible to open the eyes of the blind both literally and metaphorically. His passionate mission was to " liberate and set free the captives". This all embracing transformation reached people in both their personal and political lives.

A story... In 2003 I was sitting in a cafe in an American city talking with a very good friend about just about everything when the topic of conversation switched to politics. We were expressing our opinions freely when suddenly she stopped and lowered her voice and asked me to do the same. I forgot to tell you that my friend worked for a government agency. I asked what the matter was and she responded by saying that she was afraid of being overheard and that if someone in the office heard her expressing her opinions she could easily loose her job. Understandable? Perhaps. But at that moment the conversation seemed to be taking on the ubiquitous color of orange. My friend wanted to continue to serve in this government agency and to do that she was required to support the government's policies. Is this freedom?
Flashback to a Bob Dylan song...remember " You Gotta Serve Somebody"?

Again, I do apologize for these meandering musings that may or may not get anywhere. It's just that I feel a deep urgency regarding this issue. To be human is to be free. To become more fully and joyously human is to deepen and develop our freedom both personally and politically. It is clear to this writer that we are living in a time and especially in this place of western affluent culture when our essential humanity is being seriously attacked. More than any " war on terror" or " war on drugs" there is another more profound war being waged. And I believe we all are in it and in many ways we all share in our responsibility to become more and more aware of what is happening and how to engage in it in whatever ways we can as active peacemakers.

In closing , I want to point to one of the most influential teachers of the twentieth century - Anthony De Mello. De Mello , a beloved teacher and retreat leader, died in 1987. As a Jesuit priest he was from time to time getting into trouble with the Vatican theological police. There was a time his writings came with a Papal warning. That alone sparked my interest. He was utterly convinced that freedom of thought and feeling was being threatened in his Catholic religious context and he was determined to do something about it.
Anthony De Mello wrote a little book called, " The Way to Love" and in it he really defines in a most simple and troubling way the concept of freedom. To be free is to become more and more aware of our cultural programming, and to drop all of our obsessive attachments. For De Mello this process ( which can take anywhere from a few minutes to one's entire life) of awareness and letting-go is the very heart of human freedom and the key to human happiness. As I have reflected on this little book for some years now it is true for me that as I learn to drop my attachments of fear, false beliefs, attachments to things and people that I once believed could somehow " make" me happy or miserable I seem to be entering into that growing and glowing place of freedom and happiness.
Awareness is everthing and all I need to be aware of is this precious and present moment. Everything I need and everything you need is there.
My prayer is that we all can become and help each other to become more and more aware, less and less fearful and attached to our false beliefs - personal and political , less orange and more green, and that together we will continue to work, play, think, feel, speak, pray, fall down and get up, laugh, cry, live and love, and be the creative and joyous human beings that we all truly are! May it be so.
Blessings of freedom, dear friends...
Stefan Andre

Little Lasker Has Large Meaning...

I would like to share with you a little known but powerful festival that brings together musicians and people from rural North Carolina in a celebration of faith and art called the Lasker Summer Music Festival. I had the privilege of being composer in residence for this festival last weekend . It is the stated purpose of Lasker to reflect on the issues of faith and art and to do so by presenting outstanding sessions of music making of various styles, and formal and informal conversations . This happens every year and is a great joy to the people of Lasker, Murphreesboro , Ahoskie, and the surrounding area. Lasker is a little gem that shines in musical excellence and spiritual integrity. The directors of the festival , Charles and Kathy Hulin, superb musicians themselves, have for the past 11 years built up a growing and enthusiastic following . Rooted in the local life of people there , in friendships, and involving faculty from Chowan University, the Lasker Summer Music Festival promises to delight people for many years to come. Here you will find the freedom and joy of great music making, the challenge and comfort of a searching Christian faith, and the genuine hospitality of friends and family. So, to Lasker and all involved I say - " BRAVO!"