Me in a nutshell…
All my life I’ve had a love for baseball, history and politics. Along the way there have been some movies, books and musical pieces that have had a profound and lasting effect on me — below is a partial list. I have also learned a great deal from my personal relationships — my marriage, my family of origin, my friends, and the people I’ve served and worked with. Underlying it all is the wonder of witnessing three daughters and three grandsons appear, grow and develop.
The Godfather, parts 1 & 2 — I’ve lost count how many times I’ve watched this, and each time notice a new nuance or detail. An incredible saga of the American promise, immigrant culture, midcentury social change and a series of complex characters caught in a tragic drive for power and control
Lawrence of Arabia — Old-fashioned in many ways (English actors portraying Arab leaders) but the visuals and music are extraordinary. The story reveals how deceptive the colonial powers were in dealing with the Arab national movement and the complex persona of the historical Lawrence.
Dr. Zhivago — The love story can be a bit corny, and the presentation of life may be more polished than the reality, but a terrific tale covering 50 years of Russian history with an old-school, sweeping score.
Star Wars — I can’t imagine modern life without the first Star Wars movie.
Ken Burns, Baseball I’ve rewatched this so many times, it’s become a part of my very being.
The Natural — A male myth of an old guy realizing the fantasy of his youth. What’s not to like? Great Randy Newman score. My family knows the scene with the final home run is to be shown at my memorial service.
Field of Dreams — Another male saga of the glory of baseball and the longing to be close to one’s father.
West Side Story — 60 years old and counting, and the lingo is a bit dated, but what an incredible score and dancing. My mother loved this movie and I do too.
Genesis: rich stories of early human/divine encounters
Exodus: oppression, liberation, awe, law
Gospel of Mark: raw, stunning, audacious
Jayber Crow: Wendell Berry shows me how to see life
Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Carl Jung opened up my inner life and the power of psychic metaphors and archetypes.
Original Blessing: Matthew Fox’s fresh vision of spiritual life freed me to recapture the goodness of the natural and spiritual worlds and move beyond the stranglehold of “original sin.”
Divine Comedy, Dante: discovered in my mid-50s, opened a whole new world of spiritual psychology and artistic imagination for me. It’s all embedded in a medieval world view that in itself is fascinating — a time in human history where the natural and spiritual worlds, politics, philosophy and unchanging themes of human behavior could be understood in a unified system.
I cannot sing or play an instrument. My mother taught herself piano, and we grew up hearing her play Gershwin and the “American Songbook” to soothe her soul and celebrate life. In high school I discovered Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and Joe Cocker, and thought this was as good as it gets. In college I was required to take a music appreciation course and barely passed. But one day, out of curiosity, I found a budget recording of Beethoven’s 3rd at a record store and figured I’d give classical music another try. After listening several times, I had my life-changing epiphany: this music is not about pretty sounds, but an unparalleled way to convey profound human experiences. I’ve been pursuing this passion for more than 40 years. Here are ten of my favorite pieces.
- Mahler’s song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Mahler was relentlessly searching for spiritual meaning all his life. Towards the end, he was drawn to Eastern philosophy, which influenced one of his last great compositions, finished in 1908. In the final 30-minute song, Der Abschied (“The Farewell”), the poet reflects on the transience of life and lets personal existence dissolve while quietly repeating the word, “…ewig…” or forever. Wow.
- Bach, Matthew’s Passion: After years of listening, I still feel I know so little of its depth and genius. But the restrained, heart-felt music draws me every time into the mystery, majesty and pathos of Jesus’ passion.
- Mozart: Marriage of Figaro. I find Mozart to be one of the greatest spiritual composers of my life. Not just because of the sacred pieces, like the Requiem, but pieces like Figaro, where the most common, earthly and personal emotions are given reverent transcendence.
- Chopin Nocturnes: I had a cassette tape of Artur Rubenstein performing these that we played during the labor and delivery of our three daughters. More than 40 years later, I know so little of why they are so captivating, but every time I hear them – and any of Chopin’s work — I feel I’m witness to the most sensitive micro-emotions of life, and the sound of angels.
- Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier, “The Presentation of the Rose” duet. To hear two sopranos weave these vocal lines of innocent love and joy always seems miraculous.
- Berg, Wozzeck: I am not smart enough to understand all the musical brilliance that went into this piece. I do know that when I’ve heard it performed, the despair and shock of life in post-World War 1 Europe becomes frighteningly and poignantly real.
- Faure, Requiem: The Sanctus and Pie Jesu are spare, heart-felt and reverent, without any excess of expression but with a subdued mystical assurance. I have often thought I would like these two pieces played at my funeral.
- Avro Part, Misère, Fur Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel and everything else. I’ll never forget playing the Misère CD for the first time in the 90s; I felt like an animal that suddenly lifts and turns its head, fascinated and drawn to a profound, distant sound. This is the sound of the divine, cleared of habits and convention, both simple and other-worldly. I was at a concert in Hamburg in 2020 and saw Mr. Part from a distance after the performance; I felt I was in the presence of a true Holy Man.
- Beethoven, Piano Concerto #5: The second movement, with the tender, searching interplay of piano and orchestra (especially the flute), and the elegant and surprising turns, takes my breath away every time I hear it.
- Puccini, La Boheme and Turandot: The duet in Act 1 of Boheme opened the glory of opera to me the first time I heard it; the surging climax of Act 2 of Turandot is as stirring as any music I’ve experienced.