Sing a New Song?

September 13, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

I thought this was gong to be easy. Why? Because Sing a New Song is the perfect txt for the day a beloved music director moves on. We advise him, using the finest of wisdom literature, to go off and sing a new song. We advise ourselves to stay home and sing a new song. We acknowledge the wrench thrown into time and we move on. We congratulate ourselves on a fine time together. We bless each other on our mutual ways. “No matter where you go, Michael, always know that this place is one of your spiritual homes.”

Then I read the Psalm for the third time and found myself in spiritual trouble. The Psalm both advises the new song – while simultaneously assures us that “the world stands firm and cannot be shaken.” Hmm. Nothing new under the sun. And everything s always changing? Is this what all we can get from some of the best wisdom literature every written in the world? Yup. Will those of you who speak French well help me here Plus la change….

It gets worse. All the things imagined to be eternal are advised to shake. Fields and crops are to burst. Trees are to clap their hands and sing for joy. Why? Because as it was in the beginning, in that firm unshaking world, so it will be in the end. God is returning. To judge the earth with justice and with truth. There is a circle to the wisdom. It is a conduit, from beginning through middle to end.

So, Sing a new song is a great and useful cliché. “A cliché s dead matter. It causes gangrene n the prose around it. And sooner or later it eats your brain. You can’t fix a cliché by using it ironically. A cliché can’ be fixer. It is the debris of someone else’s thinking.’. Thus says writing guru Verlyn Klinkenbourg. You may know him as a member of the TIMES editorial board who writes from his chicken farm south of Albany, when he is not at Pomona or Harvard teaching writing. His new book is like the psalm. It comes in at a whopping 204 pages and is titled “Several Short Sentences about writing.” It is like a heavy meal, refusing to be read or eaten in one sitting.

Klinkenbourg also argues that we have serious anxiety about sequence and that this anxiety comes straight from our sentences. We think they are supposed to have a beginning and an end and since things don’t, we end up writing long sentences, which make no sense and then rely on Clichés. The psalm is going to help us out of these clichés. And away from our anxiety about sequence. There is no sequence. There is instead a cycled sequence.

We will say a lot more personally about Michael Conley, at the reception, which will follow. For now, let me appreciate his writing. He and it are not clichés. He is often funny, short and to the point. He writes great sentences. I want to go back to the psalm and send it as our farewell to Conley. May it cradle him all the way West.

So if I stay off Conley for a moment and I return to this tricky psalm, I can use Conley and Klinkenbourg as my guide. Of course, we are to be ever new. Of course, nothing ever changes. Of course we must search for living matter. Of course living matter is hard to find, especially when the leaves start to fall.

Secretary of the treasurer, Janet Yellen, says “the only thing I am afraid of is what I can’t know.” Hmm. She should therefore be afraid all the time. She also argues that the nature of this economic moment is the volatility of the volatility. Well, at least it is not a cliché. She would love, I think, to sing that song, “More Life.” Did you hear her beg for a mind free of congestion?

Maybe we are all migrants, and that’s why the story of this latest asylum search bothers us so. We seek asylum as we stay behind. Conley will seek asylum as he goes forward. We will not only migrate out; we will migrate in. The circle will change.

Apparently this cycling, this long conduit from creation to our grief today through our newness tomorrow is the heart of the matter. Nothing ever changes. Everything is always changing. The earth was built that way.

I like to think creation came from God’s cosmic sense of loneliness. Out of it came love, and then the babbling brooks the bouncing atoms and the constellating constellations. Out of utter sturdiness came creation. Into utter flow went creation.

So change is good and transformation is even better. Change is good, transformation is better, and regeneration is the best. Regeneration is the union of the permanence and the change into a cycle or a conduit. We are here today to conduit, to join the great migration of creation from one great thing to another.

Thus let me introduce you to some dowsers you may to know. Michael, I hear they still have some water left in California. And if not, use the psalm as your dowser. Use the psalm as your waterfinder. Take living water as a conduit. And take the psalm from us with you.

If you come from the part of the country where Conley and Ken Kidd and I spent some good time, you’d know one. Dowsers circuit. I don’t know how many dowsers you have known but I used to rent from one in Pennsylvania and she pretty much fit the bill. Dowsers in general have bad hair. They don’t use product. They tend to be older although once I met a dowser intern, counselor in training, CIT, who swore she had the knack of finding water. They also tend to have bodies that are what I like to affection ally call GERMANESQUE.

You don’t sing a new song…because you are against the old song. The old is neither the enemy of the new nor the new the enemy of the old. You sing a new song because you can. Because things wax and wane, because that is their nature.

Teilhard de Chardin, Roman Catholic Priest, who died alone in New York after being rejected by the pope, could have written the latest encyclical. Every changes. Everything stays the same.

Our front sign was missed by so many when it was first down because we couldn’t put it up because of the scaffolding. Sign is back and nobody has even noticed. Michael says Joys and concerns have been his favorite thing. They join us to the great conduit of permanence and change. They tell the story of us.

Change is good. Transformation is even better. Entering the world of life and death, comings and goings, ins and outs, ups and downs, is regeneration. As we often say here, we don’t go from ashes to ashes, we go from stardust to stardust. And thus to conclude, I use our best cliché. Trying to redeem it from itself.

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey…cradle in the new song that the great sturdiness permits.

You will know the anxiety of sequence. And you will know the great conduit of life. There is water underground, always was, always will be. You can find it.

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