Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson
Maybe it is the season, but it seems like there is just too much death in the air right now. We lost a teenager two weeks ago, and a beloved member of the church died last week. Fran Neumann joined Neighborhood in 1975 and was the social justice coordinator in the 1980s. She was known throughout Pasadena for her work for justice and the care of others, and will be deeply missed.
But last week also saw the untimely death of Austin Peralta. He played piano at a service here about a year and a half ago, playing Chopin’s Ballade #4. It was a transcendent performance. It is a difficult piece and he threw himself into it. The whole sanctuary was transformed, and there was a deserved standing ovation after his playing. And he did it twice that morning, the second time as wonderful as the first!
He was a prodigy, having played at the Tokyo Jazz Festival when he was just 15, and was a regular in the LA jazz scene. He was the son of Stacy Peralta, the film maker (Lords of Dogtown) and skateboarder. His death is unbelievably sad. He was Laura Grimm’s cousin and just 22. I have been listening to his favorite version of the Chopin piece, by Kristian Zimmerman, and to a jazz album he recorded, Endless Planets.
When I was a child, we lit Advent candles on the four Sundays before Christmas, and thought of this time as a time of waiting and of anticipation. Waiting for the promise of salvation (though from what I never really understood) and of new life (that I did understand). But it happened in winter, in a time of darkness and cold – I grew up in Minnesota – and we thought of the death of living things that happens before new life can re-appear. We looked forward, hoping that the end of some things did not mean the end of everything, that in spite of sorrow, beauty and joy were possible.
So, in the midst of sorrow, here is to the companions in our lives, those present and those gone, and those to come.