Although my professional interests are broad, Good Counsel blogs focus on these three related realms that are also primary among my personal interests

Faith

Childhood

Music

Why not WWJD?

Imagine that you are about to be born.

However, you do not know whether you will be rich or poor, living in a country that is safe and free or at war and oppressed, healthy or with a health of mind or body that is somehow compromised.

Furthermore, you don't know what you will make of these circumstances that you are about to inherit.  You don't know the good or ill that you will commit over the course of your life with either the undeserved relative wealth or poverty that awaits you.

What do you wish for from behind this veil of uncertainty: justice or mercy?

You must choose.  Now.  With no more information than that. 

Need help?

Imagine you are a child.

Do you love your parents because they are just, or because they are loving - because they are merciful?

Now imagine you are the parent.

Do you love your children because they are always right, confident and capable, or is it because of your love that you are willing to suffer with them the consequences of their wrongs, accompany them in their uncertainty, and support them through any incapacity?

As parents, our desire for that relationship does not cause us to deny what is right or good, but does make us willing to have our goods forsaken and even our rights denied for the sake of our children.

In other words, in what we hope for and what we hope to be in this world, we do not choose what is just, but what is merciful.

Therefore, whether we believe Jesus to be a man or myth, the actual Son of God or only an allegory for what we would wish for from behind the veil, the question when confronted with life's uncertainties is not "What would Jesus do (WWJD)?", but "What actions and attitudes could Jesus have embraced and yet still embody mercy -- what actions and attitudes could He have embraced and yet still remain on the cross?"  

From this vantage point so many of our contemporary world's most contentious disputes and differences disappear, or at least diminish, answers no longer available through simple deference to ideology or reason, but requiring dialogue infused from both sides with humility.  

We simply cannot say for certain "WWJD".

Meanwhile many actions and attitudes that are simultaneously embraced and overlooked every day by Christians and non-Christians alike become deeply, uniquely, universally and irrevocably challenged. They are challenged because of the one thing we know that Jesus did do: whether actual or allegory, He embraced the cross.

With every right to demand justice, the innocent chose to become mercy.

And therefore, whether we believe the story of Jesus to be fact or fiction, that embrace - and our response to it - remains.

That challenge and opportunity is often the subject of the stream of blogs available at Good Counsel.  

Thank you for reading and being part of that conversation.

Yellow Hat: Who's & Whose?

Curious George was a connection between us and our son before we even met - which didn't happen until he was six years old.

During the months of waiting between once we knew of each other's existence and when we could finally be together, that "good little monkey" - through creative photography, a recordable storybook and diligent scrapbooking - curated our child's introduction to the great adventure of joining his forever family.  

He consequently LOVES Curious George, and was thrilled when that simple stuffed toy was there at our first meeting, just as promised.  

I was similarly thrilled months later when an elderly woman unknown to either my son or I, upon watching our interactions from a distance, felt compelled to call out to me: "You need a yellow hat!"  

For those of you who know the stories, that tells you as much about my son as it does about me.  Both of us are pictured here, unknowingly captured by my wife in a pose that is also a fitting metaphor for the flame fed by interacting generations.

That interaction in anecdote and observation - as well as considered reflection and social commentary on such subjects as adoption/international adoption, education, society & child welfare, and, of course, parenthood - is often the subject of the stream of blogs available at Good Counsel.  

However, it is also fitting that a focus on childhood should be part of Good Counsel because Jesus is often cited as saying that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they become like a little child.  

Arguably, this is not because children are innocent, as any parent or teacher could tell you.

Rather, it is because children are filled with wonder - they unabashedly exhibit a perpetual state of awe - and because, despite an ever increasing desire for independence, they readily acknowledge their complete dependence on those into whose care they know they are entrusted.  

Indeed, as those qualities of unabashed awe and acknowledged dependence diminish, we also watch our children recede into the adults they will become. 

To mix my metaphors and in an allusion to the accompanying snapshot of me and my son, is Jesus therefore saying that it is our Promethean task to make certain our son grows up without outgrowing the best of what it means to be a child? Is our child's Promethean task to continue to keep that flame alive in us, his preceding generation, in order that our adult selves sustain the awe to perceive and the good sense to desire a Kingdom of Heaven? Are we both being tasked to make certain that neither of us turn living into a Promethean challenge: a life of constant, repetitive struggle devoid of awe, isolated and independent of others? 

Yes, yes and yes!

For childhood's unabashed awe and acknowledged dependence could also be translated as gratitude and humility.  These are the graces - not unattainable innocence - that grant children of all ages access to the Kingdom of Heaven.

And these are the graces - certainly not innocence, if you've read the stories! - that our son continues to LOVE about Curious George: that, by and large, "he was a good little monkey and always very curious."

Good and curious. Full of awe and an understanding that he does not stand or fall alone. Embodying and exuding gratitude and humility. It is all the same, and it is all we should hope for our child.

As individuals and as a society, these are the graces we are called to preserve in and for our children - the individual and collective Curious Georges in our care.  This is why those who were wise before us call out to each succeeding generation: "You need a yellow hat!"

And we can be the person in the Yellow Hat, if we are willing to acknowledge that the Yellow Hat was always ours to begin with.

Thank you for picking up your hat and being part of this conversation.

 

Where is today's
music of rebellion?

Do you remember:

  • rocking out to a teenage anthem;
  • rapping lyrics that offended your parents; or
  • being moved by a beat in a way that made others blush?

Now do you remember hearing that same music - maybe months, not even years, later -

  • over grocery store speakers as you pushed your cart down the aisle;
  • as the ring tone of an executive on their way to work; or
  • as part of an exercise routine for the senior set?

While it's wonderful to see such intergenerational, cross-cultural, uninhibited listening, it also leaves me wondering: where and how can today's composers and performers create a rebel yell?

And would we as listeners recognize one if we heard it?

Sure, there's the avante garde set in most of the so-called "serious" musical genres, but a rebellion cannot be so far in front of the masses that it is perceived by them as not coming with an open invitation.

A rebellion is of no consequence if it is not joined.

No, quite in contrast, a rebel yell must shock us out of our everyday in order to shock us into Every Day.

It is a music that, at least with practice and repeated listening, is accessible either by its ease of performance or its appeal - not to a cash-driven lowest common denominator, but to something primal among us.

So maybe our question isn't really "where is today's music of rebellion?", but "where should today's music of rebellion be heard?"

Well, hold onto your hat.

I allege that the greatest opportunity for such a rebel yell - for a music that simultaneously surprises and transports and unites us - is in the realm of religious service.

This may seem counterintuitive, but set aside the infamous instances of censorship and centuries of prescribed and proscribed musical practices from every faith imaginable.  

Instead, ask yourself: where else but in the various temples to God have we historically been given license to ignore what is fashionable, to compose against culture in order to aspire to the divine, to write for the ages and not for the times?

Furthermore, religious service connotes community. Ecstasy may be desirable, but that can hardly be made mandatory - compositions in religious service must result in more than an individual's isolated or alienating experience. Their counter-the-common-culture context is less about admonition or exhibition than an invitation to join.

As such, they are not a cry in the wilderness, but a call.  

A call to come out of the world and into the divine.

A call out of the everyday and into a heightened awareness of Every Day.

A rebel yell.

This is a tall order that I have not been able to fill, but hope that as a community we may forge and find together, such music often the subject of the stream of blogs available at Good Counsel.  

More specifically, this channel solicits from, submits for and thereby tries to connect the reader to music from all manner of sources - sacred and secular, popular and serious - but about which it could be asserted that every single piece, regardless of its source or original intent, simultaneously possesses ALL of the following characteristics (listed here with no particular order or emphasis):

  • Primitive
  • Folk
  • Sacred
  • Ritual
  • Classic
  • World

Good luck! I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for being part of the conversation.

 


All photos by or courtesy of JS Wilson

All photos by or courtesy of JS Wilson

Click here for a short sample of musical performances, arrangements and compositions that serve as a concrete - and more fun than a resume! - example of the broad perspective, disciplined approach and playful inventiveness James brings to all his endeavors - including that of being Good Counsel.