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Monday, August 26, 2013

Life Should Be a Musical

McFerrin "Plays" an Audience
I saw this Youtube video the other day with the amazing Bobby McFerrin in which he demonstrated how to "play" an audience.  Go ahead and watch it.  I'll wait......

Wasn't that nice?  McFerrin showed how, as humans, our brains are wired up to respond to the pentatonic scale of music.  There is no evolutionary purpose for that. I believe that God has created within us all a shared ability to create art together by giving us shared basic gifts, like natural response to tone and musical organization, color sense, pattern recognition, kinesthetic sense, social perception and rhythm.

It's why, when we hear music in an elevator, we may be scarcely aware of it, but unless we suppress the instinct, we will soon find ourselves beginning to hum the tune, sing the words softly and sway in rhythm to the music. We respond to it quite naturally, as though we are wired up to respond to it in that fashion - to share and participate in the music around us.

I believed that God wired us up in such a way that we can instinctively respond to, create and participate in acts of spontaneous joy. That's why I like the flashmob things people do where choirs and orchestras and bands and dance groups suddenly come together in public spaces and create these wonderful bits of auditory, physical and social art.

I think musicals are a preview of heaven. I think that in the New Earth, we will spontaneously break out in song without any shame about it.  I, personally, don't think that we will sit in chairs to listen to the angel choirs "perform".  What I think is that we will, for sheer joy, break out in song and the angels will rush to our sides in order to be a part of the music.

I think that the music of the spheres will be with us wherever we go. I think we will break out singing and dancing, just from the sheer joy of being alive and for the love of God and each other and the things of all creation. I think we will make musical instruments and carry them everywhere with us, just in case music breaks out. I don't think it's an accident that the "Hallelujah Chorus" is one of the most often performed flashmob pieces on Youtube. It just seems right. The tradition of standing during the Hallelujah chorus began because a queen spontaneously rose in respect during one of the first concert performances of the Messiah.  When the Hallelujah chorus began, she rose to her feet and with her the entire audience. Today, standing up in the Food Court or a shopping mall and singing "Hallelujah" at the top of your lungs seems like utterly like it's the right thing to do.

I think, that in heaven and the new Earth, we will create art, simply because a bunch of us want to express our joy and gratitude to God. I think we will celebrate each other, for after all, is not man and woman also the creation of God. I don't see us all spending eternity sitting around on a cloud with harps. I see us singing and dancing, creating vast spectacles simply because someone goes, "Hey, I bet if we all started jumping up and down and waving towels over our heads while singing this new song I wrote, that it would look all kind of cool!"

And then several thousand of us would all get together and practice it till we had it down, then we'll sneak over to the next town and drift into the town square and do a flashmob kind of thing to make the people there smile.  They'd probably join us.

I am certain that eternal life in the new Earth will be exactly like that.

© 2013 by Tom King

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Study Proves Tweeting, Texting and Facebooking Improves Family Harmony at Holidays

Twitter saves the planet!

DATELINE BERKELEY: A study, published today in the Berkely Journal of Useless Information, shows a "significant" correlation between the use of Twitter, cell phone texting, Facebook posting and the reduction of stress at family holiday gatherings.  Director of the study, Dr. Makindis Tüghoup, believes that social media acts as a kind of emotional "safety valve", allowing family members to release tension brought on by having too many people in one place who know embarrassing stories about each other.

The article entitled, "The Social Media Safety Valve: The Health Benefits of Tweeting", has been hailed as a break-through by psychologists who have long been looking for a potential treatment protocol for Family Holiday Dysfunctionality Disorder (FHDD).  FHDD affects some 300 million Americans annually.  Studies into the societal and global impact of FHDD have shown that the disorder causes the following secondary effects.

  • Disruption to family harmony caused by attendees at family gatherings resorting to television as a distraction. With four or five TVs running at once in each household, public utility authorities have noted a dramatic increase in power usage during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays. This increase causes strain to the power grid and a resulting release of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere potentially aggravating global warming.
  • Carbonization of a large number of turkeys burned accidentally during family fights. Reduction in the level of turkey carbonization has been show to contribute to carbon-loading in the atmosphere and a potential increase in global warming.
  • A dramatic rise in the consumption of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and anti-acid medications as well as cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. This is believed to be responsible for cuts in workforce productivity for as long as two weeks following family gatherings.  Productivity suppression is known to result in unnecessary carbon emissions brought on by workers running office machines while napping, drinking and eating funny brownies and by excessive smoke breaks, all of which threaten to increase global warming.
  • Global warming due to excessive carbon emissions during agitated verbal interactions between family members during family gatherings.
Dr. Ayahma Phoolahsheet at the National Institute for Mental Healthiness, hailed the study as a landmark, watershed, paradigm shift in efforts to find a cure for FHDD. She believes that Twitter and Facebook may actually turn out to be instrumental in helping arrest human-caused global warming and save the planet.

© 2013 by Tom King

Saturday, August 17, 2013

All God's Creatures Got a Place in the Choir

© 2013 by Tom King
VGA AYA team - I'm in front of the left-most door arch on the back row.

We are defined by our choices, but we are shaped by powerful experiences. Psychologically, for an experience to be life changing there are two critical factors that need to be in place:

My friend Bo Walker & me doing campfire songs.
  • Comradeship --  We need, at least sometime in our lives, the comradeship of others. These may not be deep and lasting friendships. After it's all over we may go our separate ways and never speak to those with whom we have shared one of these powerful life experiences again.  But if you ever bump into one of those old comrades again, you will find yourself taking up conversations you left off decades ago as if no time had passed between. This happens between soldiers, survivors of disasters, people who share a common endeavor and even schoolmates.  One of the reasons books like Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Narnia are so riveting is because they tell the tale of friendships forged in common trials. If we've never experienced that, we instinctively know we have missed something important in our growing up.
  • Competence -- When it's all over, a life-changing experience makes you feel as if you've accomplished something. You've learned a skill and used it well. You've built something that will last. You've made something better by your collective efforts. You've made something beautiful. It is this knowledge that your experience has been worthwhile, even if only to the quality of your own life that makes it life-altering.
Another camp group effort we were proud of.
Top Row: Glenn Sackett and one of the Crone Boys
Bottom row: Tim Braden, me, Jack Allen
Carol & Steffie in the boat I think.
Two of the most potent shaping influences in my life were my summers at Lone Star Camp and the times I was privileged to be a member of a choir or vocal group. I've had other successes later in life that I'm proud that I was a part of, but all of these experiences share one thing. I was not alone and we all did something good as a result of our collective efforts.

You can, of course, achieve spectacular successes all by yourself with little help from anyone else, but in the end, that happens very seldom.  Every time someone accepts an Oscar, an Olympic gold medal or some public honor, they inevitably thank others for making the success possible. Only the most boorish and clueless take all the credit for themselves. It's why, for some folk, the awards, accolades and money showered upon them to honor their talent is not enough.  Success in isolation always rings hollow and if you cannot see the contribution of your comrades or your push them aside in favor of doing it all yourself, then you cut yourself off from the most powerful rush available to human beings.

Campers learning to rescue a swamped canoe
Recently, the Internet has vastly expanded our capacity to communicate. More and more we reunite with our old friends and make new ones who share out hobbies and interests, our beliefs and tastes. A phenomenon has begun, made possible by camcorders, movie-making software, cell-phone and instant online communication - the flashmob.  It's true that we've seen this type of group activity used for evil, as anything good will inevitably corrupted. The devil is, after all, "...walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."  But the origins of the flashmob concept came from a pure human desire to create art just for the joy of it and to surprise and delight ordinary people who were not at all expecting a Broadway musical to suddenly break out in
the middle of the food court.

These kinds of flashmob events benefit, not only the folks who suddenly experience an orchestra playing Beethoven in the middle of their lunch break, but also to the artists who put together the performance.  The experience of working together with comrades to create a work of physical or auditory art and leaving behind a joyful memory for everyone and a video of the whole thing that they can share with others is a quickie version of that life-changing experience I'm talking about.

Working with troubled kids at Odyssey Harbor.
We all worked together to build a horse trail
and an obstacle course for the rec program.

If you've never had that experience, I highly recommend getting involved in one.  Join a church choir, take a dance class, try out for a community theater group, join a volunteer project or take a summer off and work at camp.  Do something that demands of you every skill you can muster; something that leaves you exhausted, but happy when it's done.  Do something that takes you outside of yourself and gives to others.

Then, when you're an old geezer like me, you'll be able to lean back in your chair and call to mind that leafy summer when..............."

And your wife will ask you what you're grinning about.

Tom King

Monday, August 05, 2013

Inhabiting Your World: Home Cooking

During our recent life's journey, I became the chief cook for our household. We had a change of chore responsibilities during my wife's illness that suited us both. I was working at home, so I no longer had commute time to deal with, I liked cooking, she was tired of it and too sick, so I took up the kitchen chores.

Let me say off the bat that my wife is a brilliant cook. My grandmother and hers were brilliant cooks and she learned from them both and went on to surpass them. I burn rice. I burn beans, I burn potatoes. Anything that can be burned, I have found a way to burn it. On the other hand, I don't mind experimenting and I'm comfortable making a meal out of whatever's in the cupboard and can make something out of nothing. Missing ingredients do not bother me.

When I took up the cooking chores, I took it up in typical man-fashion. I bought kitchen tools. I bought cookbooks. My son Micah had told me which cooking shows to watch, so I checked them out. I learned to cook the way a student learns chemistry. Sheila was my coach and chief critic. In the early days I was a one star cook - maybe less.

But as I got better at it, I learned three great lessons about cooking.

1.  Find your style and learn to cook accordingly.  If you're a by the book cook, then by all means measure and set the time and temperature accurately. If you're more of an artistic temperament, then learn to cook with dashes and dabs. However you do it, you'll soon understand how things work together to produce a delicious dish and you'll soon be making up dishes of your own creation. Don't try to cook like your wife or your cooking teacher. If you need to use every dish in the place, do it. If you hate to use more than a bowl and a spoon, then figure out how to do it that way. To your own style be true. Instead of fighting with the kitchen organize it so the layout matches the natural flow of your own peculiar brand of food preparation.

2.  Cook to make yourself happy.  Cooking to impress the critics is the reason so many great chefs become madmen. Cook to please yourself first and soon you will find that others are pleased with your cooking too. The great truth of life is that only you can make yourself happy. This is true in the culinary arts. Cook what you want to cook the way you want to cook it.

3. Be not afraid. This is the first thing an angel always says when he appears to a mere mortal.  It is the first thing an angel would say to a beginner cook I imagine. The tragic death of a souffle' is not the end of the world. It may just be that you aren't ready to do a souffle'. Me? It's highly unlikely I will ever even attempt a souffle', but I've taken on bread-baking, scratch-cakes and pies and homemade pizza. With my Mom's Betty Crocker Cookbook, I can take on anything. Besides, cooking is wonderfully forgiving once you get the bones of cookery learned.

Cooking for ourselves is what separates us from the beasts. The gradual loss of our ability to cook is, I believe, what is causing the collapse of civilization.  There is virtually no difference in temperament between a pride of lions loose amongst the wildebeests and a gang of teens descending on an unsuspecting Pizza Hut. They are consumers of food, not participants.

Until you work a ball of bread dough with your hands, flatten a pie crust or lay down a lasagna layer by layer, you have not fully participated in the holy act of feeding yourself.  Unless you have prepared a meal from scratch, with your own hands and your own brain fully engaged, you have not fully savored one of the finest things in life. Without learning the intricate interplay of flavors, textures and colors that go into good cooking, you miss an essential part of life.

You can choose to be a critic or an artist. The critic knows nothing. He nibbles at food. He often criticizes what he does not understand or appreciate. He looks around to see what the snobs say before he makes up his mind. That's why foods and cooks and restaurants that make me smile are often blasted by food critics. The critic is a sad little king on his sad little hill, looking down on a life they will never fully appreciate nor never fully savor. 

New York Style Pizza Recipe
So go out and find a recipe and make it. You might want to try this New York Style Pizza recipe.  You can find it at this link.

Start easy. It's fun to do stuff like this and, if you're a guy, the women-folk in your life will be mightily impressed.  AND the great thing about it is, you don't ever have to eat food you don't like again if you're the cook.

© 2013 by Tom King