Tag Archives: Joy

Advent Reminder

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:

  1. Hope – the Prophet
  2. Love – the Holy Family
  3. Joy – the Shepherds
  4. 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.

A Grateful Heart

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.

Gathering Eden

Kyrie Yeshua,

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.

100, 101, 101, 100, 99, 98, 99, 100

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.

20 things I now know, that I didn’t know the first time around

  1. There’s nothing that comes out of a baby that won’t wash off your skin.
  2. Crying is normal. Very, very normal. It’s not always your job to fix it.
  3. At every baby shower, there was always someone who thought to give us diapers. I laughed and laughed at that person, thinking it was the lamest gift ever. Thank you, diaper lady. Bless your 50 year-old been-through-this-enough-times-to-know-what-I’m-doing soul.
  4. I know why the word “Peace” is so often found next to the word “Quiet”.
  5. Children are born scientists. They run their own experiments to see how the world operates. My job involves knowing which experiments are likely to maim her, and heading those off.
  6. There are different degrees of “Clean”.
  7. Some days, you can literally see their brain grow. One minute, they don’t understand the concept of mirrors. An hour later, they have lined up all their stuffed animals in front of the full length mirror, and are holding a fashion show with mommy’s jewelry.
  8. Wednesday morning reading group at the Burbank Public Library is the last bastion of sexual discrimination in parenting roles. I’ve been a regular now for 2 months, and every mom there still keeps an eye on Sophia to see if she is actually an abducted child being read to against her will by a crazy man. I try to ease the tension by making small talk with her in a loud voice. “Ha ha! Look Sophia! Isn’t it fun to be reading in public with your daddy, which is me, who is fully employed and not at all creepy! Ha ha!” It doesn’t seem to be working.
  9. She doesn’t need my help as much as I think she does. She needs to fail at things, and that’s part of my job too.
  10. Babywise. It works.
  11. Parenting is a team sport.
  12. The 14-year-old unskilled extortionist next door gets $8 an hour for watching TV and eating my microwaved corn-dogs while our daughter sleeps. That, my friends, is a sweet gig.
  13. Your relationship with your own parents enters a new and strange phase when they become grandparents. You realize that they were making it all up as they went along, and they realize that you now know that, and everybody hopes that you can keep up the charade long enough to get the next crop of kids out the door.
  14. Sometime in your parenting career, you will find a half-eaten, slobbery animal cracker in your hand without having any idea how it got there. You will shrug, and finish the animal cracker. See #6.
  15. Being a dad has brought out the best and worst parts of my character.
  16. Giving children choices seems to be all the rage these days. Here’s the deal – kids don’t have any clue what to do with choices. They are confused and frustrated when you give them 6 options for dinner. You’re the parent. You decide.
  17. If a dad dresses his daughter, and takes her out into public, and somebody comments on how cute she looks, dad will dress her in those exact same clothes from then on. We fear fashion failure.
  18. Don’t join a battle of wills that you are not prepared to win.
  19. If someone comes to your house, and sits on your couch, and reaches into the cushions and pulls out a half-eaten apricot mashed into a Lego, if that person asks, “How did this get here?”, that person is not a parent.
  20. I don’t own her joy. Children do wonderful things. They sing songs in public. They wave and smile at street people, who wave and smile back. They play with anyone who brought a toy to the park, without caring about their country of origin, or what language they speak. They play the blinking game with crotchety old men on benches in the mall, and get them to stick their tongues out. None of this belongs to me. Children are a gift from God, given to the whole world, under the care of parents for a few brief moments before they burst gloriously into their own light.

All of this is good stuff to know, since we’re now gearing up for round 2!

big sister now

Three Things I Thought, But Did Not Say, To The Cranky Old People At Islands Casual Dining Establishment, This Past Saturday

One) Yes, I brought my 10 month old daughter into a casual dining establishment to eat, and yes, she does travel with a lot of accessories, including a stroller the size of a hummer. I apologize if my fumbling navigation through the main traffic area of the restaurant interrupted what was obviously a deeply meaningful, special meal out for you both. At 12:30 in the afternoon. On a Saturday. In a mall.

Two) My daughter is one of the most joyful people I know. She laughs and smiles, and it causes the sun to shine brighter, and birds to sing in perfect, 4 part choral harmony. I’ve seen her turn ex-convicts and hardened IRS auditors into cooing and gushing buffoons with just one gap-toothed grin. So, please understand, when she stands up on my lap, and looks over the top of the booth at you, and smiles and laughs, she’s not trying to insult you. I only say this because, well, you looked insulted. These are her happy noises. If you would like to hear her full gail, 5:30 PM raging meltdown, so that an accurate comparison can be made, I can arrange that. And let me just add, as a side note, that if you are incapable of experiencing joy at the simple laugh of a smiling child, then something is seriously, tragically broken inside of you. You should maybe get that looked at.

Three) Dude. We’re at an Islands. I can understand how you might be deeply offended if I plopped my daughter down and started feeding her mashed squash and Cheerios while you were enraptured by Thomas Keller’s brilliant culinary offerings at the French Laundry. But come on – Islands? The waiters are wearing Hawaiian shirts and trying to get you to buy fruity passion tea drinks. Their specialty is called the “Big Wave Burger.” If a dad and his daughter can’t have a messy, laughing, joyful lunch together here, then the world has gone mad.

So, cranky old people sitting across from me at Islands, I’m sorry that you missed out on catching my daughter’s infectious joy, which is her mother’s great gift to her. My gift to her, on the other hand, will be writing pithy sardonic blog diatribes.