Sudanese Voting Day…In Nashville

I witnessed a remarkable scene with my family yesterday: hundreds of men (and a few women) voting for the first time. And a most historic vote it was. After more than twenty years of civil war, South Sudan held a referendum yesterday deciding whether or not to separate from the northern, Muslim-dominated half of the country that has brutally oppressed them. There were eight polling places throughout the US for Sudanese expatriates to vote in the referendum, and one of them happened to be next door to our church. So after church let out we walked over to see a new nation being voted into existence.
The line of voters stretched around the corner of the building and down the street; it was well below freezing and windy, but the mood was festive. Voters came out of the polling place waving purple-stained fingers and whooping and shouting. Some of them had driven from as far away as Florida and Mississippi and Kentucky.

There are 8000 Sudanese expatriates in Nashville, most of them “Lost Boys” who were settled here around 2000 after their harrowing escapes from war and genocide and years in refugee camps. The Sudanese men we’ve known have been people of remarkable faith and resilience. So it was a joy to celebrate their first voting day with them. And yet a practical side of me is fearful for an independent South Sudan. There is very little infrastructure, 60% illiteracy; the place is a wreck after so many years of civil war. It seems that an independent South Sudan would be extremely vulnerable…though not, I suppose, any more vulnerable than they are already, when their own “government” is hostile to them.

One extra-special part of our visit to the polls was getting to reconnect with our old friend, James Kual Makuac, who has been painting his experiences since he was in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Here’s a picture of James at the easel:

And a couple of his paintings:

If you’re interested in more art by Lost Boys, The Lost Boys Foundation and Gallery (which hosted yesterday’s vote) has some great stuff.

Also, here’s the New York Times article about the vote in Nashville. Strangely, I’m not seeing anything on the website of the Tennessean, Nashville’s newspaper.

A Christmas Poem from GK Chesterton

I have seen this Chesterton poem several places on the World Wide InterWebs, but I don’t know the original bibliography. Anybody know where this poem came from? In any case, I love it. Its title, apparently, is “The House of Christmas.”
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Great New Christmas Music for Juveniles: A Slugs and Bugs Christmas

If you have juveniles in your life, you need to know about Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson’s Slugs and Bugs CDs. The original–Slugs and Bugs and Lullabies–came out a few years ago and quickly became a standard at the Rogers house. These guys have a gift for talking about the world in ways that make sense to kids–not the way kids ought to think about things, but the ways they actually do. “Bears,” my favorite from the original Slugs and Bugs, says,
Bears, bears, they’ve got no cares,
Bears don’t drink from a cup.
Sharp teeth and claws and furry paws
To catch you and eat you up.

To me that sounds about right for children’s music. It says what we’re all thinking about bears. They’re kind of cute. But they’re also kind of dangerous. That’s the ethos of Slugs and Bugs: straight-ahead, not too cutesy. And musically excellent. These are very fun songs that take their young listeners seriously. There’s no talking down or preaching.

I’m happy to report that there is now a Slugs and Bugs Christmas record, titled, appropriately enough, A Slugs and Bugs Christmas. It has all the humor and wisdom you would expect from Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson, and the music is surpassingly good. I’m talking about Ron Block on banjo, Buddy Greene on harmonica, and other equally talented musicians playing a rich and varied collection of other instruments. Plus a children’s choir that includes three of my kids.

Here are a couple of samples to whet your appetite for this great Christmas CD.

The first track on the CD is “Happy Birthday Jesus.”
[audio:http://www.jonathan-rogers.com/audio/01 Happy Birthday Jesus.mp3]

Track #2 is “Building a Gingerbread House.”
[audio:http://www.jonathan-rogers.com/audio/02 Building a Gingerbread House.mp3]

And I was trying to resist, but you have to hear “The Camel Song,” which is perfectly ridiculous. And hilarious.
[audio:http://www.jonathan-rogers.com/audio/08 The Camel Song.mp3]

It’s not too late; go buy your copy of A Slugs and Bugs Christmas at The Rabbit Room Store. You can get it as a digital download or they’ll ship you a CD (though they can’t promise the CD will get to you in time for Christmas).

BONUS VIDEO: Here’s a short video of the Slugs and Bugs children’s choir in the recording studio.

Congratulations to Sally A.

It has been brought to my attention that Sally Apokedak, a regular around here, recently won in Round II of the “Out of the Slush Pile” award over at the blog Novel Journey. You can read the award-winning chapter (and it’s very good, I might add) at http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/2007/12/button-girl.html. Her book is called The Button Girl. Here’s hoping we see it someday on bookstore shelves everywhere.
Congratulations, Sally!

Highbrow Music Day

Dear Reader, I invite you to unplug your ipods and/or put “Sweet Home Alabama” on pause for a few minutes. I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago about a remarkable project by choral composer Eric Whitacre. He wrote a choral piece called Lux Arumque (Light and Gold) and invited people around the world to turn on their webcams and record themselves singing it. When the videos had poured in, he put them together and made the amazing 183-voice performance below.

Here’s the composer describing the project and introducing the next one:

You have until December 31 to join the virtual choir for 2011.

Bonus highbrow music video! You’ve probably seen this already, but I love this bit of random beauty by the Philadelphia Opera. The Messiah at Macy’s.

AfriGadgetry

My wife went to Uganda for a couple of weeks this past summer, and one of the things that she loved about the place was the resourcefulness and creativity of the locals. Unable to throw money at their problems, Africans look around for what is available to them and come up with some surprising solutions. I ran across a fun website that celebrates African ingenuity. When you have a minute, have a look at www.AfriGadget.com. There’s a radio that some Ugandan kids made out of scrap parts; a home-made airplane (which may or may not fly); a number of biogas inventions, which convert poop into usable energy; visual art of various kinds; arc welders made from scrap wire insulated with strips of cloth from the second-hand western clothes that are sold on the streets. AfriGadget is a festival of creativity–a reminder that, whatever situation people find themselves in, the image of God is forever busting through.

Andrew Peterson on Money, Art, and Calling

Andrew Peterson is so smart and thoughtful and and gifted and insightful that I drop his name every chance I get. Have I mentioned that we’re friends? And not just on Facebook. I commend to you, dear reader, his essays on wealth, work, creativity, and calling at the Rabbit Room. I hope you’ll read them. Today’s piece, “The Extravagant Gamble” explains some of “the nitty gritty nuts and bolts behind trying to make a living as an artist.” You may not be trying to make a living as an artist, but you still ought to read it. Here’s a sampling…

…It is my job, in the words of George MacDonald, “to better what I can.” Look around you. See the sorrow and weariness in the world, in your own community and church, under your own roof–in your own heart, for Heaven’s sake–and better what you can. Let Christ lead you; he’ll show you how. If you’re wealthy, keep your job and fling the money at those who are bringing water to the thirsty. If you’re not wealthy, better what you can. Work your field. Tend your family like a garden. Write a song about your story. Write a story. Better yet, live a story. Makesomething beautiful, and make something beautiful of your life. There’s so much in the world that’s falling apart, so put something together. Find a way.

Oh, man. It’s good stuff. Here’s that link again: www.rabbitroom.com.

What Did You Expect?

“The key to a successful blog,” said my friend S.D.,”is to set low expectations.” I suppose that’s good advice any time. He was mostly referring to the frequency with which a blog is updated. I don’t reckon I have it in me to blog every day. Two or three times a week seems much more manageable. And I certainly don’t want to be one of those apologetic bloggers who starts every post by saying, “It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, but…”
Perhaps we can make this deal: if you, dear reader, will keep your expectations low with regard to the frequency of my posts, I’ll try to live up to your highest expectations with regard to the quality of the posts.

So what, exactly, can you expect?

Read More

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