Thursday, May 7, 2020

when nature is sick, we're sick

Today in the National Geographic Daily Newsletter, bRachael BaleANIMALS Executive Editor

One year ago, a landmark global report announced a shocking finding: One million species are at risk of extinction. Over the past 50 years, it found, populations of land-based species have fallen 40 percent, freshwater species more than 80 percent, and marine species 35 percent. The evidence was overwhelming: It’s our fault.

It can be hard to contemplate putting energy into environmental protection when global COVID-19 cases have surpassed 3.7 million. But the pandemic is a result of humankind’s destruction of the planet. “Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people,” the reports’ authors wrote a few weeks ago. (Pictured above, an endangered baby Bornean orangutan with her adoptive mother.)

The authors issue a stark warning: Future pandemics will happen more frequently, will kill more people, and will cause greater economic damage unless we start recognizing the inextricable links between human health and the health of the planet, its ecosystems, and its nonhuman living creatures. This is not a radical concept. The framework of OneHealth, recognized by the CDC, the World Health Organization, and governments and organizations around the world, does just that. 

It’s easy to think—especially for those of us who live in urban areas—that ecosystems are something separate from us. But the coronavirus crisis has shown that even people in the most advanced, developed cities around the world are vulnerable when ecosystems are degraded.

The bottom line: When nature is sick, we’re sick. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020


I've simmered down a little, but not much. The image of the Holy Father alone in St. Peter's Square really pacified me.


A friend wrote:

“I have to confess I am dumbstruck at the seeming credulity many Americans have for President Trump and the right-wing anti-life pro-mammon ideology. I am outraged that no one is outraged that we are now discussing explicitly choosing money over lives. The fact that this is abetted by self-described Christians is galling––but this has been a long-time coming.[1]

No wonder young people are increasingly “spiritual but not religious”. Who would countenance the thinking, let alone the company, of such people?  These time call for prophetic voices.

I then see Pope Francis, as someone wrote on an internet meme- "an 81 year old man with only one lung and limping with sciatica, standing alone in a vast piazza under a cold rain, imploring God on behalf of everyone, and reminding us to care for each other.  An image of hope.”


It feels a little skewed to be celebrating the silver lining of the cloud when it is overhead and terrifying people, given that the wave is just starting to crash on our shores. But I found this more sobering that celebrating the clean canals and clear skies at the cost of human misery. It's called “An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans” by Kristin Flyntz

Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.

We will bring the supersonic, high-speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the planes
the trains
the schools
the malls
the meetings
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations”
that keep you from hearing our single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.

We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa, China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time,
hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.

Despite what you might think or feel,
we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger.
We are Ally.
We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns
and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility,
to relinquish your thinking minds
and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes,
and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy?
How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition:
how does its health contribute to the health of the sky,
to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition:
clear, clean, murky, polluted?
How much do you need it to be healthy
so that you may also be healthy?
How does its health contribute to the health of the tree,
who contributes to the health of the sky,
so that you may also be healthy?

Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. 
Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, 
beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about the quality of your own health, 
what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, 
and all of us who share this planet with you?

Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.

Stop. Just stop.
Be still.

Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing,
about what might be required so that all may be well.

We will help you if you listen.

* * *

Friday, March 27, 2020

the Earth is the Lord's!

Ralph Drollinger (the so-called "cabinet pastor") wrote that the U.S. is “experiencing the consequential wrath of God” because the “forsaken,” which includes environmentalists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, have “given over” to their “degrading passions.” Betsy DeVos, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, and Rick Perry all regularly attend Drollinger’s bible study sessions, with Perry describing him as a “brilliant, knowledgeable bible instructor.” (NBC News / Independent)

Somebody should tell these culpably ignorant people that they got it wrong: it’s more likely their/our wanton allowance of the destruction of God’s creation, the beautiful gift of Mother Earth, that has ruptured human beings’ relationship with it and God’s perfect plan for it. As Jim Robbins wrote back in 2012: “If we fail to understand and take care of the natural world, it can cause a breakdown of these systems and come back to haunt us in ways we know little about. A critical example is a developing model of infectious disease that shows that most epidemics—AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades—don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.”[1] 

On the other hand, just see how the skies over Beijing and Los Angeles are clear, and the canals of Venice clean and full of fish and algae for the first time in decades. In only two weeks! We can do this, people. The Earth can survive without us. We cannot survive without her.

And while we’re at it let's tell that fox in the White House (cf. Herod, Luke 13:33) that today we are casting out demons, the ones who are bowing before Mammon (Mt 6:24/Lk 16:13), the supposed Right-to-Lifers who are willing to sacrifice their elderly on the altar of the economy. And you know what Jesus does with demons, right? (Mt 8:32.)

I would not say that the president of the U.S. is the Antichrist. It would only go to his head. But all this that the president and his henchmen from the swamp are up to is anti-Christ. I can hardly believe that anyone with any intelligence could read the gospels of Jesus––let alone the social teaching of the Catholic Church––and still support this man and his ilk in any way. Let’s send them into the sea with the swine, and for sure vote them all out of office in 2020.

Stay close to Tony Fauci instead, the marvelous Italian immigrant; and to the Holy Father, that Argentinian immigrant; and to Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, who recognizes that this is a time for us to put down our arms and work together as a world, across the world, for the whole world and all its people.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.

Be well, everybody. Stay safe, stretch and breathe, say your prayers, and Restiamo distanti per oggi per abbracciarci domani––"Let's keep away from each other for now so we can hug each other tomorrow (Giuseppe Conte)."

[The opinions expressed here are those of a private citizen and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.]


Monday, September 9, 2019

not even a drop

September 8, 2019

This Self, which is dearer to us than anything else,
Is dearer indeed than a child, dear than wealth,
dearer than all beside.
Let one worship the Self alone as dear,
for if one worships the Self alone as dear
the object of one’s love will never perish. (Briharanyaka Upanishad)

I’m in Phoenix now, actually Paradise Valley, staying at the Franciscan Renewal Center (better known as “the Casa”), and spending as much time as possible with family and also a few friends. Will try now to finish up the conference if not the rest of the time in Sicily.

I knew Fausto, S.J. from our mutual love for and study of India. His own connection there led to him having a close friendship with an Indian Jesuit named Ravi, and Ravi in turn has a close connection with a group of classical Indian dancers––Bharatanatyam, a very stylized symbolic type of sacred dance that originated in the temples, particularly in the south, in Tamil Nadu. (It was banned by the English colonialist missionaries for a time in the 19th century, accusing it of being harlotry, etc., typical dualistic anti-incarnational prudery (“he said, dismissively”).) Talk about sparing no expense: somehow Fausto and Eraldo managed to bring five dancers from a troupe called the Kala Darshini Dancers from Andhra Pradesh in south India. These dancers are a cultural center there that was established by the Jesuits of the Andhra Loyola Institute. We were back at the Palazzo Branciforte for this mesmerizing performance, which was ticketed and open to the public. The local commune had definitely helped with getting these six young women there. Besides the classic Indian dances, they have also choreographed some modern dances based on Gospel stories. When Fausto introduced this event he pointed this out as a prime example of inculturation, taking what is already there in the native spiritual and cultural genius, and employing it as means of expressing the gospel.

One anecdote from that afternoon… I wasn’t getting much exercise outside of sweating and walking, so I took to going on foot to the conferences with the student participants as often as possible instead of driving with the Jesuits. That day they all wanted to stop at a BAR for a cold drink on the way, and I sidled in and asked just for a glass of acqua frizzante, which I find very satisfying and thirst quenching. When the barista gave it to me I started reaching for my wallet, and he said to me, loud enough for all to hear, “Non siamo nel Nord, Signore, siamo nel Sud adesso. Non si paga per acqua qui––We’re not in the north, sir, we’re in the south. You don’t pay for water here.” I clapped my hands and laughed out loud as did the kids.

We were all quite wiped out after that performance and the concomitant trek across town and back by the time got back to our residence. The Capella delle Dame was not available to us that evening for our evening prayer, so we were supposed to use the sanctuary of the huge Jesuit church at the Casa Professa instead. That was also closed and no one could be found who had a key, so we were scrambling around searching for a place to hold evening prayer. I was advocating for us to do something simple and informal, and it was conceded to me, perhaps somewhat grudgingly, by my Jesuit colleagues. We finally found a bland little hall upstairs in the dorm building, and it seemed as if Fausto and Eraldo just turned the thing totally over to me, presiding from my chair with the guitar. I had brought some of the charming music from South Africa that I had fallen in love with some years back, some of which is featured in GIA’s Gather. That was the music and culture I was featuring that day. I don’t have the references with me here but I believe it was compiled and recorded by a Swedish group named Ultryck, based on the transcriptions of a white South African Catholic priest named David Dargie. One of the more popular pieces is called “Thuma Mina,” translated into English as “Send Me, Lord.” I in turn had translated it into Italian. It’s very simple with a single lower harmony. That in addition to a simply chanted psalm, a short reading (read twice) and some intercessory prayers, wound up being for me the most memorable of our prayer services.

Part of the scope of this conference is to introduce the young people into liturgical spirituality. Yet for all my love for our liturgical tradition, I am no big advocate of always doing things exactly as they are laid out in our official books. There is a time to be creative, and that time is whenever we are not compelled to do something official. I always advocate this as well when trying to introduce folks into the Liturgy of the Hours, that the main purpose is not to pray these exact psalms and read these specific reading at this exact hour of the day, as the Church obliges religious and priests. The purpose is actually and above all to pray without ceasing. But “because we are not given to pray as we ought,” (John Cassian) we stop at certain times to renew prayer. And the best thing to do with that pause is to spend some time with the Word, scripture. And pride of place is given to the psalms as it has been from the beginning. But that leaves us lots of room. I think most young people are pre-catechetical and even pre-liturgical. It would be better to form them into the larger spirit of this, and toward that end to “pray as they can, not as they can’t.” If I do work for this conference again, as the Jesuits have asked of me, I think I will push toward something a little lighter for our liturgies of the hours.

I must confess I was once again wiped out and dehydrated by the end of all that on Satruday, and took the evening off again as the participants went for yet another major conference back at the palazzo, entitled ‘Sconfinare nello Spazio e nel Tempo’ offered by a highly acclaimed composer named Roberto Cacciapaglia––roughly translated “Crossing the Frontiers of Space and Time.” But I did go to the last talk on Sunday morning, offered by a professor of Musicology and Music Education from Rome named Raffaele Pozzi. He and I had spoken briefly at dinner the night before, and it seemed to me that he was going to be the bookend to my own opening presentation. And so it was in his talk entitled “Music and Spirituality in the Global World.” He decried how the Church has eschewed great sources of music in favor a banality in modern liturgical music. I was afraid at one point we were going to get an Italian version of “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” (Thomas Day), but he was much more nuanced.

Prof. Pozzi was annoyed that the great modern day Italian composers had not been asked to contribute to the new musical repertoire, and he gave us an example of an Our Father by Stravinsky, which was indeed simple and sturdy, in 4-part harmony. But he also gave us examples of music from Africa, some he had filmed and recorded himself, including the fascinating practice of ululating, which he found fascinating. Interestingly he thought we had not availed ourselves of pre-recorded music enough––something which I have been very much against––saying that recorded music “would be better than four out-of-tune guitarists.” He was dismayed at the Church’s reluctance to use purely instrumental music, and chalked it up to the fact that is escapes the control of the rite (and the censors). He thought that there was too much of an avoidance of expressing the ugly and the dark in our modern liturgical music when 187,000,000 people were killed in wars in the 20th century alone, which needs to be expressed and grieved. One word that he coined I will certainly use again: just as there is pornografia–pornography, so there is pornofonia–porno-phony, ugly, abusive, lewd, exploitative sounds. It was all pretty heady and I thought out of range for these students, not because of their limited musical abilities or intelligence, but because of their limited liturgical experience and post-conciliar history. But they stepped up to the plate with very incisive questions again at the end, though I must say two or three looked a little worse for the wear. I know for a fact that several of them had been up all night, being typical college-aged young people on holiday, because when I got up at 4:30 AM I overheard and them talking on the balcony below mine. And I am pretty sure it wasn’t because they had gotten up for Vigils.

We parted ways there, bidding our goodbyes and thanks in the foyer. I was quite touched when one of the young guys came up and hugged me and held on, and then someone called out (in English) “group hug” and the bunch of them surrounded me and held me for a good minute.

That’s all for the conference, except for this: Eraldo and Fausto and I had a little time together on Sunday afternoon finally, de-briefing and celebrating. First we had Mass at the Jesuit residence and liceo where Eraldo lives and teaches, joined by three other scholastics and a deacon. Fausto asked me to preside and preach. And then they took me to Eraldo’s favorite local restaurant, a little family owned place called simply Pizza e Pasta, where Eraldo knew everybody and everybody knew him. They ordered up three delicious antipasti, one of which was the kind of caponata that Grandma Luci used to make all the time and I simply have to learn to make. The waitress came by to collect our little plates but I said, “No, voglio pulire il mio piatto prima––No, I want to clean my plate first” and reached for a piece of bread, as my Dad would have taught me. They burst out laughing. Then at the end we ate granita, which I also remember as a child; we used to call it Italian ice. This one was with fresh anguria–watermelon. After eating it all I picked up the glass and drank what remained and said, “Non voglio perdere neanche una goccia––I don’t want to miss even a drop!” And they burst out laughing again. I finally asked Fausto what was so funny, and he said that there couldn’t have been a greater compliment to the restaurant than that a foreigner would say something like that. By that time I was laughing too, with delight at the whole ambience.

I’ll pick up with the rest of my Sicilian adventure later. Non voglio perderne neanche una goccia!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

sufis and ambassadors

August 31, still in Rome, the best laid plans…

            ‘La musica è il lavoro più pericoloso al mondo.’* (GeGé Telesforo)

           *“Music is the most dangerous job in the world.”

When I got to the airport this morning shortly before 9, a message awaited me indicating that my flight from Rome to London, London to LAX had been cancelled and that British Airways had booked me on another flight for tomorrow morning. No explanation. I do know that there are flights plans being changed due to incoming hurricane Dorian, and that many flights have been cancelled out of Hong Kong due to the protests ongoing there, but I have no idea if either of those have anything to do with it, or if this is a simple case of overbooking. Luckily Mario, who had driven me to the airport, was still nearby and came right back to fetch me. I was musing on how fortunate I am; what about someone who didn’t have a monastery nearby to house and feed them but might be instead stuck overnight in a foreign country not speaking the language. So here I am back at San Gregorio after pranzo with the brothers and a great thunderstorm with hail, with a few extra hours. Non c’è problema. I can throw down a few more lines about the Zipoli conference.

As I said, I thought that my presentation did set a good tone for what was to come. On the other hand, if I had actually known what was to come I might have very intimidated. With no false humility, I feel as if I was the least qualified of all the presenters. The first up after me was Chiara Bertoglio, who is both a concert pianist and a theologian. If it’s any indication, my biographical blurb was about a half a page, two paragraphs taken from my old website. Hers was a full two and a half pages long, listing every place she performed and every orchestra she had performed with, every article she had written, and every degree she had achieved, including a Level II Masters Degree in the History of Theological Thought from Sant’Anselmo, the Benedictine University in Rome, and another in systematic theology from the University of Nottingham in England. She spoke on “Polyphony, Harmony and Communion: from the Song of the Trinity to Human Society.” I do not remember the other two of three pieces she performed during her talk and at the end, but she amazed us in the middle with a performance of Brahms’ piano transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in Dm for violin, which is performed all on the left hand. She introduced it with a full exegesis of the deep spiritual significance of the piece aside from the musical wonder of it. Brahms said that on one stave Bach had written a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. “If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.” 

That evening then we had a very unique performance of solo music for contrabasso, what we usually refer to as an upright bass, by a woman from Rome named Federica Michisanti. She entitled the performance “Music as a Search for Unity.” The music struck me as rather aleatoric and usually classified as jazz, though it is through composed and performed with a trio. She sat on the steps of the sanctuary and spoke very informally in between pieces about music as a search for one’s own true self, and one’s own “voice” in the broadest sense of the word. A lovely lady, and I had a nice conversation with her the next morning at breakfast. 

The highlight of the evening though was in the venue again: this was the church of San Cataldo, one of the places also recommended to me to see. It has only been accessible to the public in recent years because it is the main church of the Cavelieri di Gerusalemme, otherwise known as “The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem” founded in 1099, one of the knightly orders founded to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, especially during the re-conquest of Jerusalem at the time of the 1st Crusade. There were indeed flags with the Jerusalem cross on them scattered around the church still. It was interesting to think that at a time when Muslims and Christians were living peaceably together in Palermo, various pilgrims and their protector knights were also crossing through on their way to defend against Muslims in the Holy Land. What would those conversations have been like? It was a 12th century church in that same fascinating Arab-Norman style, very austere inside, its most notable elements being the three cuppolas that are visible from all over the city and its marble floor with inlaid mosaics, which the guide says is “an extraordinary example of Arabic decorative art used in a Christian context.” (It too is one of the UNESCO protected sites.)

And we were just getting started: that was the first day! All that plus three liturgies!

We had the use of a fantastic place called the Palazzo Branciforte for several events, thanks to a good relationship with the comune of Palermo who also co-sponsored some of the events. Among other things, the palazzo houses an archeological museum, a library, a concert hall, and a fine (air-conditioned) auditorium. The first talk of the morning was there, offered by a musicologist named Cinzia Merletti who spoke on “Cosmology and Spirituality in the Music of the Mare Nostrum,” that is, the Mediterranean Sea. She is also a percussionist and an expert in the music of the Mideast. There were some instruments but she did not perform. She spoke instead quite a bit about the theory and spirituality behind Islamic music, specifically that of Iran and North Africa. 

Dr. Merletti set us up for a wonderful performance that afternoon by the Pejman Tadayon Ensemble entitled “Sufi Mysticism, Dance and Poetry.” Pejman himself is Iranian but now lives in Rome; and the rest of his ensemble––eight singers and instrumentalists plus two dancers and a woman who recited poetry, mostly of Rumi––are Italians. I love this music anyway, but a few things were especially cool about this ensemble. First there was a viola da gamba, a six-stringed Renaissance bowed instrument that I think of (perhaps superficially) as the grandfather of the ‘cello. I love the sound of this instrument, and have several recording of the music Jean Marais, but I had never heard it live. There was also someone playing the duduk, an ancient Armenian woodwind instrument whose sensuous sound still echoes in my memory as I write. In addition the percussionist was almost (almost) of John Pennington class, had many of the same Mideastern drums the John uses and was the only other person I have ever experienced performing with a riqq, the Egyptian drum that looks like a tambourine but is played largely on the drum head and by manipulating the pairs of cymbals. I went up afterward to compliment him and his eyes lit up that I knew what a riqq was and where it was from. (Thanks, JP!) They also featured two whirling dervish dancers, a man and woman. This all took place in a cavernous old Jesuit church that suddenly came to life with their presence. At one point Pejman stated unequivocally that he was sure there had been sufis in Palermo during the Arabic reign. I’d sure like to think so.

And then that evening there was a talk called “Sound and Development of Music Between Spirit and Culture,” by Michele Campanella. I had no idea who he was, but when I got back to Rome and showed the booklet to one of our monks, he raised his eyebrows and said, “He is one of the best known classical pianists in Italy.” He also performed a piece of Mozart, most of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, and a piece of Liszt, who is his speciality. It was very embarrassing though: I could not stay awake through this presentation. It was very warm in the church we were in, it had been a long day and I had not been sleeping well, and I was just miserable, made more so trying to stay awake and not let myself be seen nodding off and falling out of my chair. I slipped out early and apologized to the maestro––and he was indeed always referred to as Maestro Campanella––the next day at Mass. He was not offended. After such refined music, I was actually little uncomfortable when he appeared at Mass the next day, with me leading the students in the few simple chants I had taught them for the Eucharist liturgy (he had the night before criticized some of the new liturgical music he had heard), but he was very gracious and friendly, and told me how much he liked my voice. Sometimes Caesar nods.

The next presentation, Saturday morning, was by far my favorite, and also was the one that made me understand what a genius job Eraldo and Fausto had done in putting this conference together, ensuring that the students got a full range of musical experience. 

It first of all took place in a little cave-like building called the Art Tatum Jazz Club, around the corner from the Jesuit residence, that still smelled like last night’s sweat and beer. It was led by a well-known jazz singer named GeGé Telesforo, who is also a drummer and a well-known TV and radio producer. (At one point he casually mentioned his work on a certain show for RAI, and the student who was asking him the question at the time was just stunned.) To my disappointment, he did not sing, but sat in the stage area, lit up as if he was performing while we sat around at little cocktail tables and on bar stools and talked about what music means to him. No, I take that back: he talked about what music means––period. While he spoke I kept thinking about something I heard Dylan say once, that every time you go on stage you take your life in your hands. He spoke with unmannered passion and authority about the importance of self-discipline (because you may not get any support from your family if you decide to follow a career in music), about respect for your craft, about the importance of always doing everything in your power to put on a great performance. 

I was writing furiously trying to keep up with him he was so eminently quotable. He comes to LA once a year to teach vocal technique at a school in Venice Beach and loves Americans’ way of getting things done. He told how one of his mentors there in LA stood before a group of music students and said to them, “Out there right now there are 500 musicians better looking than you, better than you, and more motivated than you. E voi, cosa volete fare?! And you, what do you want to do?!” At one point he was critiquing pop music and said, “Standing in the middle of pool with a gold chain around your neck surrounded by girls who are touching their culo and twerking isn’t music! That’s cinema!” He also spoke about the importance of having your own recognizable sound, and left the kids with his five senses of music: 1) A sense of rhythm; 2) a sense of form and structure; 3) a sense of melody and harmony; 4) a sense of interpretation; 5) l’ultimo ma non il meno–last but not least, a sense of the show––respect for your audience, yourself, your colleagues. I thought he was marvelous and I told him so. Fausto urged him to come to New Camaldoli if he can when he is in California. He reminded me of Francine Reed and Andy Gonzales and the musicians I used to love to hang out with back in Phoenix, topnotch performers who just loved doing what they do.

One last quote from GeGè, maybe the last thing I heard him say, when one of the kids asked him what he thought the purpose of being a musician was. I have waited for years for someone to say this for me, when the world is in such need of doctors and clean water and environmentalists and food, and it can feel as if making music is just a waste of time. No: “We are ambassadors,” he said, “we’re the messengers.” And he added, “Ignorant people are not stupid; they just don’t know” and they won’t unless we tell them.

That gave me such consolation, I can’t tell you. People can read all about events in the newspaper or online; they can hear about important issues on TV or the radio; they can read about interreligious dialogue in textbooks. But when we sing about it––or better yet, when we sing it––it gets in in another way. We’re ambassadors. We’re the messengers.