Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah!

I have met, that's right, MET (!) Flicka Spumoni, and you haven't.

Or, maybe you have, too. I really have no way of knowing.

But I have, and that's enough for me!

More later on this momentous occasion -- I am on nanny duty and just heard my Meck-child running to the bathroom.

Thus spinneth the world another day!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Motherly Wisdom Gleaned From Experiences With a Monkey-Child: Volume 1

How to tell that your child has recovered from stomach flu:

1) Chart the firmness of his or her stools.
2) Make a timeline of what solid foods stayed down and for how long
3) Note the diminishing levels of vomit in the "puke bucket"
4) Watch your child run downstairs and fling open the door to the garage to demand from his or her mother -- who has just returned from running some small errand -- a cookie. Then, after he or she has downed peanut butter bread and one cookie, hear him or her meck on and on about wanting homemade spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

After these careful observations, it should become evident that your child has indeed recovered from the stomach flu and is well on his or her way back to the usual monkey shines.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Welcome to Adorable Trivialities!

Thanks for clicking over to my new address. I have long regretted using "sadiebugsmom" as the address and "The Musings of Justine" as the title, especially when it was printed in Liberty magazine. I just never really expected that anyone else would ever read this blog when I first set it up. It was always more for my own edification and exorcism than for the world at large.

But, now I want something a little more literary and less personal.

"Adorable Trivialities" is the new name of this blog, and it comes from the amazing novel by G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday. After a harrowing 155 pages (in my B&N Library of Essential Reading edition), this novel has the most comforting and burden-lifting ending of just about any novel of its kind (for the reader and the protagonist).

After Syme has been on the run from the anarchists he is trying to thwart, with the sides closing in from all directions and no one's being who Syme thought he was, there is this resolution:

(If you've never read the novel in question, I think this may be a spoiler of sorts, so please read no further and go read The Man Who Was Thursday. It's very short and will take you but a day. I'll wait here.)

[Syme and Gregory] were walking like old friends, and were in the middle of a conversation about some triviality. But Syme could only feel an unnatural buoyancy in his body and a crystal simplicity in his mind that seemed to be superior to everything that he said or did. He felt that he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality. (p. 156)

I'm sorry to put you out, all you dear fellow bloggers who have linked to me. Please update your links, or, at least, delete the "sadiebugsmom" link.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Album Review: Michelle Tumes

Album: Michelle Tumes
Artist: Michelle Tumes
Label: Levanter, 2006

Major record labels. Who needs 'em?

Since leaving Reunion lo these many years ago, Carolyn Arends has been making amazing music on her own label, 2B Records. Now, five years after she left Sparrow, Michelle Tumes has put out an album on her own label, Levanter, that simply blows away much of what passes for music on the Contemporary Christian market today.

Now, an artist is an artist and will produce the goods whether attached to a major label or not. But, how refreshing, how heartening to know that musicians can follow their own stars and not have to compromise on the quality of production out of the arms (and wallets) of the big studios! This exquisite offering from Ms. Tumes is more proof that indie artists are the wave of the future.

I missed Michelle Tumes. She is one of the most talented and poetic songwriters in music, Contemporary Christian or otherwise. I enjoy all of her Sparrow releases (Listen, 1998; Center of My Universe, 2000; Dream, 2001). The first two of these were evidence of her strong, imagery-filled and evocative lyrics paired with her ethereal, lilting voice. To compare her to Enya, as so many seem to wish to do, is, in my opinion, to do Michelle Tumes a disservice. Enya's music is pretty and soothing, but boring; Michelle Tumes has far more energy than the Queen of Celtic Revival. The third of her Sparrow releases was a departure, and one that I feel often alone in admiring. Dream was playful and dance-beat-driven, with vocals more powerhouse than angelic. I really like it when musical artists are willing to step outside their comfort zone and try new sounds and styles. Most of Michelle Tumes's fans were disappointed, though. Then came the five-year hiatus with its regrouping and studying and songwriting and, now, its glorious culmination: this self-titled offering.

Actually, the title of the album is my only quarrel with it. I've never had much patience with titling an album after its artist. Were I consulted on the title for this release, I would have suggested borrowing from my favorite track and calling it Break Through. For this album is a breakthrough, in many different ways. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Lush. That is the first word to pop into mind when considering Michelle Tumes. The orchestral sound that marked her first albums is back, richer than ever. The lyrics are nourishing, fulfilling, intoxicating -- cream and strawberries and champagne. Michelle's voice soars and whispers and charms and mystifies. The complete effect of listening to this album from beginning to end is one of being on a journey -- a wistful and sweet and edifying journey. For, this album is tinged with melancholy, but never slips into the brittleness of cynicism or despair.

I believe that Michelle Tumes may be one of the only contemporary songwriters who is able to dabble with Latin in her lyrics without sounding contrived or over the top. The first song, "Introit," is Latin only in the title, but, much like that enduring tongue, the words within are timeless: There's an angel resting on my shadow/There's a haven in every hope I breathe/There's an ancient cross beyond tomorrow/There's a fragrant hymn that's beckoning . . . That's just a taste of the sort of imagery that haunts the lyrics of this collection.

The next song is "Domine (Lord God)." The music of this song is rather upbeat, but the lyrics have notes of anguish in them: Forty days I cried with no reprieve/The tears that raised the tide/Were crashing over me/Forty days I cried with no reprieve/Too far to look ahead/Surround my heart Your grace amends/Domine, Domine/Make my path run straight/Lift my heart, speak my name/I fall, I break/Domine, Domine/Find me far away/Stay, take my pain, I am praying/Domine . . . Something in the idea of crying for forty days without reprieve really struck me. I think that is something to which any listener can relate.

Another song that I just love is "Fair Weather." Again there is a note of torment in her voice when Michelle sings the chorus: In the silence when the fear calls/And the tears pour You carry me home/You're the windfall in the rainstorm/Stay with me (with me)/Never fair weather/You are never fair weather. What a clever contrast -- God's steadfastness with the expression "fair weather friend."

The happiest song -- bright and sunny in both lyrics and tempo -- is fittingly called, "Lovely Day." As our old friend the sun is showing his face at last in the Land O' Rain, this song has played repeatedly in the car: It's a lovely day/It's a lovely day/Heaven on the inside/Your soul's going to fly away. Have you felt that? I have. I've felt so often that wild joy, especially in the beauty of Creation, where you simply feel that your soul is borne upward on the wings of the angels. This song is drenched in the sun's rays, and you can almost taste the salty freshness of the air -- it's the seashore in the form of a song.

My favorite song on this album is the aforementioned, "Break Through." Michelle Tumes is a Medievalist at heart -- she and C.S. Lewis could have a very comfortable conversation about the lore of chivalrous knights and Scottish castles. The imagery of those bygone days served to inspire one of the best songs I have heard in a long time. Imagine, if you will, peering into the distance from the uppermost room of an almost impenetrable tower. Through the misty moors you see a figure emerging -- a gallant knight on a white steed. He vanquishes every opponent on his quest to free you. He is your Redeemer: I see my love, see my love/With might to save/Scale the walls of yesterday/Break through/Be my joy, be my joy/Charge this path and/Storm the tower of my heart/For only you can break through/To me. "Scale the walls of yesterday . . ." She really captured a truth in that line. Our yesterdays are the dividing walls between us and our Creator.

"Caelum Infinitum" throws a little more Latin our way. Michelle translates it for us as "boundless heaven," and she offers us tantalizing glimpses of what previews of His kingdom look like on earth. The chorus is as close as you can come to Gregorian chanting without engaging the men in brown (not UPS drivers). This is vintage Tumes: reinventing the ancient and timeless.

The last song on this album is the most simple. It was written when Michelle was seventeen years old, and it is, "Hold On To Jesus." The arrangement is straightforward -- just the piano and Michelle -- and, because it is so unadorned, the beauty of it rings out clearly: You've got to hold on to Jesus/When your heart is crying, your world is dying/You've got to hold on to Jesus/When your life has had enough. Have you ever felt that "your life has had enough?" I surely have, and I am grateful always to be reminded to hold on to the only One who can recenter my world.

This is the probably the best album of 2006. It is wholly satisfying, and my appreciation of it grows deeper with each additional time I listen to it. I'm so glad that Michelle Tumes is back in the studio. We need her music.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Silver Cross

Nine times out of ten, when I look in the mirror, I see my big, goofy face staring back. But, on that tenth time, my eyes focus, not on my visage and its various imperfections, but on the small silver cross that hangs from a thin chain around my neck. And my worldview makes a sudden, seismic shift from shallow vanity to eternal truth. And that is why I wear the symbol of my Lord's shame and torture and death -- to remember that I have been purchased at a great price.

Keith Green, in his amazing and convicting sermon, "What's Wrong with the Gospel," asserted that he did not think that the cross was an appropriate thing to wear as jewelry. He said, "If Jesus had been killed in the electric chair, would we wear small replicas of that around our necks?" This gave me pause, and I had to think long and hard about whether God wanted me to continue to wear my cross. I decided to continue to wear it for two reasons. The first is that I do not see it as jewelry, per se. I do not wear the cross to draw attention to myself, nor to adorn my body for personal gratification. I wear it for that tenth time that I look in the mirror -- to remember anew what my Savior did for me at Calvary. And, secondly, I would wear an electric chair around my neck, were that the method by which I had been saved from hell and redeemed of my sins. I would wear it gratefully, joyfully, prayerfully -- as I hope I wear the cross.

I used to take my cross off at times. When I did not think that I was adequately taking up my own cross in His name, I would remove the symbol of my Lord's burden. Then, I realized that that was inappropriate. Because of the two boards stained with His blood and scarred with the holes into which they drove the nails, I have been given a grace that means that though I fail repeatedly to live His example, He shall never forsake me. The times when I am unfaithful are the times I need that glint of silver most to greet me in the mirror. In its reflection are the rough boards, the dark stains, the holes that will never fade away. Now, with an even greater realization of my unworthiness to wear it, I never remove my cross.

And wouldn't a wooden cross be more fitting as a remembrance? Well, again, I am not so sure. Wood, hay and stubble will burn up in the fire, but the things done in the name of Jesus will be turned to silver and gold in His kingdom. I wonder what that device of torture and death that stood underneath a violent, black, mid-day sky two thousand years ago will look like on the other side, transformed to reflect His glory. I see no hypocrisy in a silver cross.

The last comfort I take in my little silver cross is this: Though I only see this symbol in the mirror every tenth time instead of my face, my Father in Heaven sees me 100% of the time through the blood that was shed upon the original. And if He can see me like that -- with mercy and grace and love (and I know what kind of sinner I am -- how black and deceitful my own heart can be even after twelve years) -- how it gives me impetus and strength to see the world through more compassionate eyes. Because of what is represented by this little silver cross, I am seen and can in turn see through the covering of Christ. And that is what I want more than anything in the world.