I Wish I Had the Guts to Send This Letter

A major religious holiday is coming up.  That’s a good clue that it’s time for my semi-annual Musical Rant.  I’m pretty sure that Satan knows that this is the best way to get to me.  Feel free to tune out if you’re not a church musician.

To the Music Director and Pastor at my parish:

I came home from church tonight to find the forwarded email notifying me that, despite the fact that the Folk Group was assigned to sing the noon Mass on Easter at least two months ago, we’ve been reassigned to a different time and location, two weeks before Easter itself.

It’s nice that you “hope this is not a problem.”

People do make holiday plans, and in the Folk Group, you’ve got a very dedicated bunch of musicians and singers whose family holiday plans revolve around our church schedule.  That schedule is already variable because we have been asked to sing that once-a-month Saturday-evening Mass rather than our traditional Sunday noon time slot.  On Christmas and Easter, we do our best to be there at different-than-usual times because of the nature of the Mass schedule on those days.  Two weeks before Easter, most of us have made our holiday plans.

Reassigning us two weeks before the most important event in the Church year tells us exactly where we fit on the musical totem pole (as if we didn’t already know.)  It’s disrespectful to us personally and professionally.  I feel like the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus to heal her child, only to be refused because of her nationality.  She replied to Jesus, “But Teacher, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”  We are the dogs and you are giving us crumbs.  We’re expected, I guess, to be happy with whatever crumbs come our way.

And because we’re not proud (or tired) we’ll take those crumbs.  We’ll rearrange family plans.  The musician who works into the wee hours on a Saturday night will drag himself into church because he–as the rest of us do–believes that singing and playing for the glory of God are what matter.

We are not the world’s best musicians.  But we more than make up, in attitude and enthusiasm, for the polish and finesse we lack.  We view our role at Mass as being leaders of song, not performers in a show.  Our goal is to help people sing along, to help them feel comfortable enough to sing along, because singing at Mass is a huge part of prayer.  Most of the time, we achieve that goal.

In the several years since the parish merger, we have made many, many accommodations.  We have learned an entirely new repertoire.  We have used chant settings for psalms and other Mass parts as required, even through chant is extremely challenging with only guitar accompaniment.  We have bent over backwards to follow the “once-a-month Saturday night” schedule, even when it means that most of us can’t be there because of work and other obligations.  (That’s why we had the late Sunday Mass to begin with.)  We have learned and used the Mass settings we were told to use, again, even though guitar is not the best accompaniment for some of these settings.  We’ve enjoyed learning some of this new music and tolerated other pieces, but we have always learned and used what we were asked to do.

We are not there to put on a show.  We are there to help people to pray through music, to help them give honor and glory to God through music.  We do this by keeping it simple, approachable, and in a key that’s in a comfortable range for most people.  We welcome beginners, teenagers, and our own children; that’s our investment in the future (and as a parent, I know very well how much such an investment pays off.)

Being a part of the folk group in this parish is an exercise in humility.  I have to say, it gets old finding humble pie under the Christmas tree and in the Easter basket year after year after year.  My husband says that I should just be thankful that we’re being reassigned rather than cancelled altogether.  Any way you slice it, though, it still hurts.

I’m sure we’ll take the crumbs and we’ll be happy to have them.  And we’ll sing our hearts out because it’s what we do.  But you should know that it hurts to be treated this way, and that I have carried around this unspoken burden for far too long.

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Don’t Rush It!


It’s that time of year again. The “Be A Scout!” signs are all over town with our phone number written on them, and I’m taking random calls several times a day from people interested in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and even Toddler Scouts.

For the record, Toddler Scouts does not exist.

And we don’t have any Girl Scouts here. I don’t have the Girl Scouts’ phone number. All the children on the “Be A Scout!” signs are BOYS.

(Note to the National Boy Scout Council: It would be really great if you’d spring for the extra ink needed to print “Be A Cub Scout!” on your Cub Scout recruiting signs. That would save all of us moms who answer phone calls a whole lot of trouble.)

I’m used to moms of kindergartners asking if the Cub Scouts has a program for their boys, since the Girl Scouts has created the Daisy program for five-year-old girls. But today’s phone call takes the cake.

A mom called, saying, “I got this number from the Scout sign and I was wondering if my son is old enough for Scouts yet.”

“How old is your son?” I asked. “Cub Scouts begins with first-graders, in our Tiger Scout program.”

In a disappointed tone, she answered, “He’s three and a half.”

Picking up my chin off the floor, I told her, “We don’t have anything for boys that age. We’ll be happy to see him when he’s in first grade, though.”

I wish I’d kept her on the phone and told her not to rush things with her little boy. I wouldn’t have been sarcastic, saying things like “Cub Scouts don’t wear Pull-Ups.” But a three-year-old is so young. He doesn’t need structured group activities like Cub Scouts yet. He needs time to dig in the sandbox and push Tonka Trucks around and dance silly dances to ’80s tunes and run around and kick beach balls and build with Legos and color with crayons and learn to eat with a fork. (OK, Little Brother still needs to work on that last skill. But you get the idea.)

I feel kind of sad for this mom and her little boy. It’s not that I don’t think Cub Scouts would be good for him. I’m a firm believer in just how good Cub Scouting (and Boy Scouting) can be for a boy. But I’m also a firm believer in not overcommitting children, especially very little children. When Big Brother (my Eagle Scout) was three and a half, he wasn’t even in pre-K yet. So far, his lack of a full slate of early-childhood activities has not seemed to have any ill effects upon his intellect, achievement, or ability to make friends.

I wish I’d told this mom to let her little boy enjoy being three and a half. There’s plenty of time for Cub Scouts later.

Wish I’d Said That


Editorial in the Wall Street Journal exposes Notre Dame’s invitation of Obama for what it really is.

This morning I eagerly listened to The Catholics Next Door program on Sirius/XM radio’s Catholic Channel. (Let me just say that this program alone is worth the price of the subscription to satellite!) Greg and Jennifer Willits, the hosts, had an extended interview with Professor Appleby from Notre Dame. On Monday, that interview will be available as a podcast. It was rather disappointing that the University did not allow Prof. Appleby to “speak on behalf of the administration” but I believe that the interview confirmed the Wall Street Journal article’s theories.

Pray, pray for old Notre Dame…

Hat tip to Lee for the cartoon.

Dear Candidate for Town Council:

The other day I received a letter in the mail detailing why I should vote for you tomorrow.

For weeks, my husband and I have been buried under piles of mail–all those slick flyers from your campaign team as well as your competitor’s.

But this letter was different. First, it was a letter, in an envelope, rather than an 8 1/2 X 11″ postcard. Second, it was addressed only to me.

When I opened it up, I saw the reason for that. Your letter was on pink paper. It informed me that it was more than 15 years since a woman had been elected to town council here, and that you are the only current female candidate.

Frankly, I think that if you feel you need to depend on the fact that you are a woman to get elected, then you’re selling yourself short and insulting me. I do not vote based on the gender of the candidate. I vote for the candidate who I feel will do the best job for the town I call home.

Your letter spent a little too much time on what Whitney Houston and the Phillies were doing 15 years ago, and too little time on what you plan to do for our town.

I do hope that your team wins tomorrow (after all, your sign’s in my front yard). But if you do win, wouldn’t you be prouder of that victory if you were sure it was won on your merits as a candidate, rather than on the fact of your gender?

[For the record, I emailed the candidate a copy of this entry.]

Question for Miss Manners

What is the proper response when a relative who is visiting your home to celebrate a birthday asks if there’s a driving range nearby (implying that if there is, let’s go there!)

TheDad handled it by ranting about how ShopRite took out the area driving range when it relocated to a bigger, better store with a smaller, worse parking lot.

I kept my mouth shut and stewed about it while squelching the temptation to ask, “Why do you want to know? Are we boring you?”

And the next question is, why can’t I let go of it when people insult my family’s hospitality in this way?

A Letter I Wish I Could Send

Dear (name withheld)

One day this week I was waiting in line at your workplace. You were assisting a customer and laughing with that customer and others in line about the pastor in our church. You were broadcasting the irreverent behavior that you and your friends display in church, particularly during the Lord’s Prayer.

Did you know that Father very deliberately tries to slow down the Lord’s Prayer? It’s not because he is being ornery. It’s because he wants everyone to take the time to listen to each and every word that we are praying. Father has said on more than one occasion that we must not race through the Lord’s Prayer–we must savor every word, as that is the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. It’s not funny that you and your friends finish “10 seconds before Father” and always wind up laughing.

But what really bothered me is that you think nothing of having these discussions in your workplace. You work in a very public place in town. Everything you say to one customer is overheard by all the other customers who may be there. Please use your interactions with your customers as opportunities to spread good, not to mock or slander others.