Saturday, February 27, 2016


Photographer Scott Van Osdol
    A week later, I still feel a catch in my throat each time I think back to the haunting music and imagery from the deeply moving performance of Considering Matthew Shepard that our family attended in Austin last week. It was the world premiere of this extraordinary oratorio, composed and conducted by Craig Hella Johnson, and performed by Conspirare, the 30-voice choral ensemble that he founded in 1991.   
     The piece was based on October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, an extraordinary book of poems written by Lesléa Newman, a noted author, poet and long-time friend of ours. She lives in Western Massachusetts, and we hadn't seen her since we were all scratching out a living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 80's, so when she said she was coming to Austin for the premiere performance, we quickly said yes.
     Truthfully, I'm generally not a fan of big choral performances, and wasn't very eager to drive all the way to Austin to hear the famous, heart-breaking story of young Matthew Shepard's gruesome, gay-bashing death set to music. But Zet and I were eager to catch up with our friend, Lesléa, and it seemed like one of those important cultural events that we feel compelled to expose our teenager to periodically. Of course, Mateo didn't want to go but we played the "parent card," telling him (just like I told myself) that this was one of those cultural boundary-stretching events that we needed to see. Period.
     Little did I know how true that would turn out to be. Of course, the music itself was extremely well crafted and highly creative, as I'd expected, given Conspirare's worldwide acclaim and Craig Hella Johnson's fame as a composer/conductor. Moreover, the melodic adaptation of Lesléa's poetry was very lyrical and the staging was first rate, with a very restrained, but highly effective use of minimalist video projection, props and placement of the singers that really propelled the gut-wrenching tale forward in unexpected ways. But I'm a little embarrassed to admit that what got to me more than the artistry and production values was the fact that the lyrics often referred to the nineteen year-old Matthew Shepard as "Matt" - the same nickname often applied to our beloved, sixteen year-old son, Mateo.
     Listening to the oratorio unfold, it was all too easy to glance sideways at Mateo and imagine our kind, sensitive and compassionate son being confronted with hatred and cruelty some day. To remember how commonplace it is for free spirits like him to suffer at the hands of strangers, simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And, yes, I was probably interjecting and/or projecting painful memories of some of my own past experiences in this realm.  But, stealing glimpses at Mateo's face from time to time, I saw that his misgivings about attending this show, too, had been melted away by the power of the story unfolding onstage. Unlike his mother and I, he never quite gave in to the tears welling up beneath his quivering temples, but he, too, was clearly moved by the magical, musical spell being cast by the singers and the songs.
     That's the power of great art: it opens our hearts to the full range of joys and sorrows, peace and pathos, uplift and anger we humans share, whoever we are, wherever we live. The fact is that a powerful live musical or theatrical performance, like the one we witnessed from Conspirare, has the unique capacity to draw audience members into the heart of the story, by drawing on the universal palette of human feelings, longings and short-comings. And in the case of Considering Mark Shepard, it provides us with palpable reminders of our aspirations, and inspires us to do what we can to move in the direction of our dreams - not just as individuals, but also as a people.
     As the echoes of Conspirare's masterful performance continue to resonate in my heart and mind, I find myself feeling a renewed sense of purpose as a writer, musician and spiritual director. At a time when the airwaves are increasingly being filled with the shrill voices of pundits and political candidates issuing dire warnings of eminent danger and urging us to protect ourselves from strangers, I choose to step up my efforts to create new songs and stories of peace, possibility and the power of Love. To celebrate our Oneness. And to elevate the conversation within the context of the Circle and beyond, as we find ways to learn, embrace and affirm the awareness that "We Are One."
With gratitude,  
PS: I invite you to join me in listening to the rebroadcast of the premiere performance of Considering Matthew Shepard on KMFA 89.5, this Sunday afternoon, February 28th at 3pm. I'm pretty sure you'll be glad you did. And if you know anyone in Los Angeles, let them know that tickets are still available for the second live performance tomorrow night, Saturday 2.27.2016. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016


     Thirty-six years later, I can still remember exactly where Zet and I were standing on the night of December 8, 1980, when we heard that our musical hero, John Lennon, had been assassinated. We'd just walked out of the Hole in the Wall, a bar on Guadalupe Street (aka "The Drag") adjacent to the University of Texas Austin campus, and we were in a great mood. We'd come there to scope out the burgeoning live music scene in Austin, along with a fellow musician, Charlie Athanas. The Hole in the Wall was just one of several places we planned to visit that night, looking for a venue where Charlie and I could book our first Austin gig, after carefully building our folk-punk act with scores of performances in San Antonio.
     I remember being impressed that a local band, The Skunks, was playing to a packed house on a Monday night, something that would never have happened in San Antonio in those days. The Skunks were good, but we were giddy with plans for our own music as we walked out of that hot, pulsing club with the intention of heading to another one down the street, only to be greeted by a crowd of folks huddled around the front door, sobbing and groaning in disbelief over the news of John's death. We drifted to the edge of the group and stood in shock, unable to move any further, much less continue with the night of light-hearted bar-hopping we had planned.
     Fast forward to 2016, and many things have changed. These days, a major news story like that would probably flash on everyone's smartphone simultaneously, but it's highly unlikely that I would ever be in a loud, crowded bar to witness it. My friend, Charlie, moved to Chicago where he's had a successful career in theater and graphic design, while my taste in music has changed quite a bit, along with my hairline, waistline and bedtime.
     Oddly enough, thirty-six years later, I still had haven't performed a concert in Austin. Sure, I've sung and spoken in several churches and conferences there, but somehow I let myself fall into a limited mindset about where I could (and could not) perform my songs. Over the years, I became so focused on writing and singing about spirituality, primarily within the context of Celebration Circle and like-minded "spiritual settings," that I'd convinced myself I could only play in "those kinds of venues." That Austin was so saturated with excellent musicians that I would never be able to play there. That my music could never be popular outside of the narrow box of "sacred music" I'd constructed in my own head.
            For a variety of reasons, that's finally begun to change over the past year, as I've gradually expanded my range of performance opportunities and musical skills. I've resurrected Rudi + the Rudiments, a trio-based band format (Kevin Lewis, bass; Kiko Guerrero, drums) that enables me to co-create the brand of planned spontaneity I love best. Brushed up on my guitar chops, so I can play with the amazing musicians who've "magically" begun appearing in my life. Grown as a vocalist, spurred on by gift of singing along with the amazing voice of Sister Sarah Gabriel. It's been quite an amazing year!
     Meanwhile, I still dearly love my work in the Circle and other overtly spiritual situations, but am actively embracing opportunities to perform elsewhere, too. Because that's the best way I know to share the Circle's purpose as widely as possible, by learning "to honor and nurture Sacred in ourselves, each other and all Creation." By erasing the artificial lines between "sacred" and "secular" which I'd erected in my mind. Finding renewed pleasure in sharing my brand of musical performance art as widely as possible, new ways to communicate our Oneness with a wider audience. Learning to ask for - and accept - support in doing this work. Don't know what all of that means yet, but I'm enjoying the process of finding out!
     And, at long last, I'm producing my first concert in Austin on Saturday night, March 5th. Rudi + the Rudiments will be raising the roof at the Austin Centre, with Dirje Childs, a truly amazing cellist, and Steve Daniel, master of the didjeridoo, sitting in on several tunes. It's going to be a wonderful night, and an important expansion of the Circle energy in Austin. That's why I'm asking for your support. Can you join us that night? And/or invite any friends or family that live in the Austin area to attend?
    The Austin Centre, 3809 S. 2nd Street, 78704 at Ben White Blvd. has plenty of free parking.
For tickets and info visit my website by clicking here.  And please share!
     In any case, thank you for your support and friendship. I'm very proud and happy to be working with you to co-create and communicate the amazing story of Oneness, Peace and Possibility Thinking in all its many forms.

With joy,

PS: Speaking of amazing celebrations of Oneness... thanks to everyone who helped make our 24th Circle Birthday Party/Valentine's Day Celebration last Sunday such a wonderful event! I won't even try to list all the loving individuals who gave generously of their time, talent and treasure to make it possible - but you know who you are, and hopefully, you also know how much your gifts are appreciated.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


      Yesterday, Zet and I had the pleasure of watching our son, Mateo, compete in the UIL Regional Swim Meet (100 yard freestyle and the 400 yard freestyle relay) in Corpus Christi. He didn't make the finals, but did shave almost three seconds off his previous personal best time, and I'm feeling like a mighty proud papa. Of course, we wanted to stay overnight to watch his team mates in the finals, but knowing he'd have more fun if his parents weren't hovering around the hotel where he and his teammates stayed, we drove to Port Aransas and spent the night at the Seaside Condos, a slightly funky, but cheap beachside motel we've enjoyed in the past. 

     This morning, we woke up early and spent some time hanging out on the beach before heading back to Corpus.  It was crisp and cool, so Zet took a long walk, combing the beach for shells, while I had the pleasure of partaking in my all-time favorite form of meditation: a long set of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, keeping time with the slow, soft rhythm of the surf, breathing in the salt spray, facing into the light of the sun rising over the sea. Ahhh...
     Now that I've finished my centering process, Zet surprises me with a beautiful, 20' x 15' heart sculpture, which she drew in the sand while I was busy meditating. Coming on top of the great joy of watching Mateo swim in the Regionals, the satisfaction of a good night's sleep far from the responsibilities of our daily life, the sweetness of my wife's company and a deep, seaside Tai Chi Chuan set at sunrise, her Valentine drawing is the perfect out-picturing of the heart-bursting-wide-open-joy I'm experiencing!
     All too soon it's time to leave the beach and drive back to Corpus. Ever the organizer, Zet heads back to the motel room first to finish packing, while I linger to savor the scenery just a little bit longer. Feeling all that joy washing through my chest while standing next to the heartwarming artwork and surveying the ceaseless dance of the surf washing up on the shore, suddenly a visceral sense of loss begins stabbing my solar plexus as a I realize the tide is slowly rising. That within the space of an hour or two, this beautiful Valentines gift will be washed away. It's not a big surprise, and hardly a profound thought, given the inevitable fate of sand castles on every beach in the world, and yet...
     In that one moment, my imagination observes the beautiful drawing melt away in the rising waters soon to come; and along with it, I experience the inevitability of my death and/or Zet's, bringing with it the end of our seemingly endless relationship someday, just as surely as Mateo will pack his bags and go off to college next year.  First my toes, then my feet, then my whole body is sinking into the beach, dissolving into the selfsame texture of the countless grains of sand on which I had been standing, seeing them for what they truly are: the remains of a billion trillion seashells that have been pulverized by these same, relentlessly dancing waves.
     But just as quickly as I found myself standing all alone, feeling the pangs of Mateo leaving home and my bones melting into sand, I'm now experiencing the intimate immediacy of past, present and future melting into One ceaseless moment, stretching out in all directions and dimensions simultaneously. Yes, I'm all alone, facing into the bodily awareness of impermanence, staring into the unsolvable mystery of impending death - but I'm also feeling deeply connected to everything in my surroundings, profoundly certain that I AM standing in the perfect spot. Not just here and now, but always and in all ways.

     Simultaneously I am feeling both humbled and blessed. Diminished and enlarged. Awful and awestruck. But mostly, I'm ready to pack my bags and do the next right thing in the next perfect place, whatever and wherever that may turn out to be.  And, for this awareness, I am thankful.
With gratitude and blessings for a Happy St. Valentine's Day! Hope you will spend it with us at the Circle's 24th Birthday Party!

Saturday, February 6, 2016


     Once upon a time, not that long ago, in a place much closer than you might imagine... there was a five year-old girl who went to the circus with her parents. During intermission she was eating some cotton dandy when a friendly person sitting nearby asked, "What's a little girl like you doing with such a big bunch of cotton candy?" To which the girl replied, "Mister, I'm a whole lot bigger on the inside than I look on the outside!"


     I believe that we're all much bigger on the inside than we look on the outside. We are large, because we each contain a whole universe of capabilities and possibilities just waiting to be experienced, explored and expressed. We grow happier and healthier in direct proportion to the degree we allow ourselves to plug into our Bigness - and then take action on that awareness whenever possible.

     That's why this Sunday in the Circle we'll be focused on the power of purpose. It's a theme I've returned to again and again over the years, because I believe that identifying, internalizing and utilizing a personal statement of purpose is one of the simplest, most direct ways to experience the feeling of being "a whole lot bigger on the inside than we look on the outside." And that, in turn, makes all the difference.

With blessings and hopes of seeing you around the Circle,