Every year, I have to ask Doug to remind me what the weeks in advent stand for. Since I don’t have a handy notebook near, I’m posting this here to remind me throughout the season, and so that I can find it with a snappy little blog search next year.
Advent is four weeks long. The four weeks are:
- Hope – the Prophet
- Love – the Holy Family
- Joy – the Shepherds
- Peace – the Magi
On week 5, we celebrate the traditional “80-Proof Christmas” candle, wherein all music pastors pass out from exhaustion and slip into the numb embrace of Bookers.
So, I have to say that today I am thankful. I often sit in our little rental feeling pretty down about it. Wishing for a home of my own. But today, God sent So Cal rain. Torrential rain. (Yes, even for WA standards). And when this happened:
I have to say I was thankful to get to phone up our landlord and make it his problem. Ah the benefits (for now) of not being the home owner. ;)
I’m giving the message tomorrow night at our Thanksgiving service. I thought about giving a 12-part dissertation on the dispensational reading of Romans, with annotated commentary from the Darby Bible. Doug thought it might be better to focus on gratitude.
First, a little music to set the mood.
Be Grateful by The Hawkins Family (not OUR Hawkins, different Hawkins)
I think gratitude is a powerful antidote for some of the diseases of the heart. Not actual heart disease – the cure for that is to quit smoking and lay off the television. But for the pervasive ills of the soul, gratitude is a strong prescriptive. If we choose to practice gratitude, there are some things that come along with it, some benefits that accrue to the grateful heart.
A Grateful Heart is Humble
It is impossible to be grateful and self-satisfied at the same time. It is impossible to be grateful and also arrogant. Gratitude takes humility as a prerequisite, because gratitude admits that we have been the recipients of generosity, have been given something we had no claim over. It acknowledges that we have relied on others to extend to us the benefit of their free will, used on our behalf. It recognizes the freedom and dignity of someone other than us, and places us in their debt.
When Paul builds his case against natural righteousness in Romans 1, he says that the cardinal failure of those outside of the covenant is not that they were ignorant of God; how could they be, with such manifest evidence poured out around them? He says that the cardinal failure is the failure to give thanks to the God that they know must exist. Failure to admit humility before him. Failure to praise. And, out of that failure, Paul gives a litany of crimes against humanity that pour out of the ungrateful heart:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things with are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, unloving, unmerciful …” Romans 1:28-31
Those of us spending time with family and in-laws this Thanksgiving might take pause for a moment to see that “disobedience to parents” was included in such august company with the other mortal sins.
I’m going to hell.
A Grateful Heart is Content
This was one of the 16 points in my epic 96-minute sermon from earlier in the year. The short version, which was definitely NOT the version I used during that sermon, is that gratitude shakes us free from focusing on what we lack, and refocuses us on what we have been given. “Things We Lack” is an infinite category, and like all good infinite sets, no matter how many things we take out of the set and add to the category “Things We Have”, the infinite set is still infinitely vast. (In my previous message, I skipped the whole 20-minute side lecture on number theory and the irrationality of actual infinites. Looking back on it now, that’s probably why so many people complained. Note to self: next time I preach on contentment, include more math-based proofs.)
Gratitude is incompatible with the twin symptoms of discontentment: greed and envy (both make an appearance in Paul’s notorious list in Romans 1). Greed feeds on our fixation with the future, and envy makes us competitors to those around us. Gratitude wrenches us away from the future and places us in the present. Gratitude restores our unity with those around us. Both are the hallmarks of contentment.
A Grateful Heart is Joyful
Gratitude often travels hand-in-hand with joy. The Psalmist knew it. Check out Psalm 100:
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his ;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
A Grateful Heart is Generous
I grew up in a strand of Protestantism that valued states of mind. Faith was a certain way of thinking about things, salvation was a certain state of belief about God, redemption was the renewing of the mind. The purpose of the church was to impart, defend, and celebrate certain states of mind. It was never articulated in quite that way, and if you stopped to talk to the teaching leadership in the church, they would likely protest. But the force of expectation and participation was all intently focused on that one aspect of being: the ideas and perspectives that we held in mind.
In coming to possess my own faith, I see the poverty of that perspective. Ideas, at least the kind of cherished by people of faith, are not static, and cannot be contained by the mind alone. They are ideas that compel, they are states of mind that pour out into actions. Gratitude that begins and ends with a state of mind is not worth celebrating.
Real gratitude expresses itself. It responds. If someone is generous to me, my gratitude provokes me to be generous with others. As God has been supremely generous to me, and if by faith I am filled with unspeakable gratitude toward Him, I will respond. My posture toward those around me will be generosity.
It will be a generosity propelled by humility, contentment, and joy.
Ok, so this question is as predictable as cranberry sauce and Uncle Hensley’s snoring that starts 3 seconds after he settles himself on the couch, but still…do tell…what are you thankful for?
A friend said to me today “So what is at the top of your thankful for list…no, too obvious, what is 5th?” For our purposes (yes, we do have them. I think.) here on Addy Road, I’ll take anything from your top 10. Oh, and my number 5 was art or music, it’s a toss up. My friend rejected that answer and made me get more specific, so I said “that I’m healthy enough to paint and learn to play cello.” I’m not as picky as my friend, so you can be obtuse or specific here…I cast a wide, wide thankful net.
Disney’s Desperate Housewives.
I just made myself butternut squash ravioli with buttered sage sauce and I’m eating it and it’s tasty but I swear that I’m actually tasting it less because of the wall of sound that is crashing down on me (created by my two male children playing cars on the hardwood floors near me) like a hundred giant trees being felled all at the same moment. It’s as if the demands of my present audio processing are actually diminishing my ability to taste. Am I eating pillowy, savory ravioli or….an actual pillow…or…..? And, we don’t have any parmesan. That doesn’t help either.
Anyone up for this? “Cheap seats” start at $24, but if we have a group of 8+, there’s a discount. What night? How many tix? In the comments.
We have no memory of happier times
except the mimeographed black and white
irrelevant and unlived kind
No touchstone of bliss to serve as reference
For reconstruction and renovation
Instead we forage through the present pieces of ordinary lives
gathering Eden from the disparate strands presumed to be
echos of the first thing, the better thing, the joyful thing
And perhaps the joy itself is provenance enough
to prove that such things were present there
And have floated down the Tigris to us here.
All the ladies love my jetta, all the ladies and the new york times.
iPhone 2.2 verdict: thumbs up for the browser & maps updates, way up on the mobile podcast dl, but boo for the 10mb 3G limit – no TED on 3G
- Should we kill healthy people to harvest their organs?
- Are you the same person who started reading this article?
- Is that really a computer screen in front of you?
- Did you really choose to read this article?
I’m off to plan a worship set, but when I’m done, I’ll drop some thinky thoughts in the comment section. Read the article, it’s cool.
My hubs just got a chunk-o-music placed in this trailer. He rocks.
There are also no questions when he makes dinner.
So yeah, there are always questions. Always.
(But that’s ok…cuz’ I’m better at making the dinner than I am at making the movie trailer music. It all works out.)
Well, the results are in. I’m never going back to the old way of teaching.
I’ve just finished grading Intro to Music Tech mid-term exams from the inaugural class of the new “Joy First, Theory Second” teaching method. The results were … staggering.
First, a little orientation. In this exam, the students walk into the room, I hand them a piece of music that looks like this:
They have 60 minutes to reproduce everything on the page, exactly as it appears, using Logic Pro notation software. Any of you who have tried to get Logic to spit out a basic worship chart can appreciate just how difficult some of the things on this page are. After 60 minutes, they email me a PDF file of their work.
In previous semesters, the average grade on this exam is about a 76%. This semester, the average grade was a 95%. I had one entire section (the best section, you guys know who you are) that averaged 100% – AVERAGED!! The lowest grade in the class was like a 94, and everyone else nailed it, including the extra credit.
Alex Wen, my impossibly awesome TA, deserves a huge chunk of the credit. He grades most of the projects leading up to the exam, and his corrections are very pointed, and help the students figure out how to correct their errors.
We also made a pretty substantial shift in the level of training for the lab techs, and made them more readily accountible and accessible in the lab, to help students with their projects.
Finally, this is a pretty unique group of students coming through the class. They are almost all freshmen, and they are very much on the ball. The next few years in the School of Music are going to be fun, if this crew is any indication.
When you add all of those factors up, whatever remainder there is between that and the outstanding test scores, I’m chalking up to the shift in teaching method. I love how effective it is in getting students deep into the content, and meeting them with instruction at their point of interest.
Next semester, I’m going to find a way to adapt this philosophy to my other courses, and better integrate it into the second half of my Intro to Music Tech course. I’m hopeful.
Joy first, theory second.
We got to church this morning to find everything covered in a layer of ash from the Yorba Linda fires. A few families from the church were evacuated, not sure yet if anyone lost homes. Is everyone safe?
“Thanks Maggie. Please hold all calls until lunch, ok?”
I had impromptu coffee with Ash yesterday. He was in town, called me, asked if I wanted to hang, and when Ash wants to hang, you just hang. That’s how it is.
Of course, things went deep. How’s the wife? How are the kids? How’s work? How’s not working? What is the meaning of time and space? Who is God? Does She have a personal assistant?
At some point, the conversation turned to the nature of pain, physical and emotional. What is it? How does it affect us? I said something in the course of the conversation that made some sense, and Ash looked at me and said… “You need to write that down!”
Here I am, doing that. Here’s what I said, in a nutshell.
Life is pain. The very act of living is painful. We’re born into pain, and we die in pain. If you’re in pain, you know you’re alive. The question is this: do you want your pain working for you, or do you want to be its slave?
See… I was fat. Really fat. Like 320 pounds fat. Now, I am fit. I’ve lost nearly 100 pounds. I have muscles, and I can run 7 miles without stopping, and I can touch my toes. I do pilates and yoga and eat salad and have become a regular hippie. This process has been ongoing for 2.8 years thus far, and will never stop.
I got fit through a process of deliberately causing pain to my body. The body doesn’t like pain, doesn’t like the feeling of aching muscles. So, it gets all bent out of shape, goes in, and rebuilds the tissue… stronger, leaner, more equipped. This process burns calories, and fat. Then, of course, you have to do it again, and again. You literally incinerate your fat from the inside out.
It hurts. It hurts like hell. At first, when you start walk / jogging, your lungs feel like they’re gonna fall out of your chest. Your feet hurt. Your back hurts. Your knees hurt. Heck, your butt hurts. Most people stop because it hurts. Oh, also, you have to starve your body of calories, which also hurts. You have to purposefully and, of course, healthily, deny your body external food, so that it has to go to the resources it can get to, namely the resources that jiggle on your tummy. Being hungry doesn’t “Hurt” in the same way, but it is uncomfortable, and you get grumpy, and it all sucks.
So… why do it? Well, here’s something to consider: life is pain, and pain is life. Do you want your pain working for you, or do you want to be its slave? When I weighed 320+ pounds, my back hurt all the time. My knees were sore, all the time. My spine was crooked near the top, and slouched forward, causing chronic pain in my shoulders. I would sweat while sitting still. Airplane rides and shopping for pants were exercises in humiliation and discomfort. I couldn’t tie my shoes standing up. I was not likely to drop to the floor and play with my young daughter. I didn’t like going to the beach, or the pool. I had a chip on my shoulder, because I thought everyone was judging me because of my weight. I was a slave to my pain.
But now, (and this is, I think, what Ash reacted to) my pain is scheduled. I manage it. I make it work for me. I do not have back pain. I do not have a curved back. I do not sweat until I say so. I love shopping for pants. I can do a pull up. I am confident. I enjoy being on stage when we’re singing. I don’t fear people’s judgement… well, at least in the area of physical appearance.
Being fit has not solved all my problems, but having been both morbidly obese and a model for healthy living, I am prepared to make a value discernment and tell you that I experience less personal pain when it’s scheduled and maintained.
Schedule your pain. Make it work for you, instead of against you.