Sunday, July 28, 2013

The bassoon and the Bible

I am a bassoonist.

Upon first read, many of you may wonder if this is an admission to some sort of disease or phobia. Is it a point of view or a recent fad?

No, my friends. It means I play the bassoon. I was first introduced to this extraordinary instrument in 1997 as a wide-eyed fifth grader exploring the instruments I had to choose from for beginning band class (read about this experience and more here). During my first three years of playing, my private lesson teacher assigned me to buy an etude book that, looking back, was way out of my league. Even with a background in piano and choir, I did not understand half of the musical markings in the book, I knew how to finger only a fraction of the notes, and I had little-to-no concept of the musicality such an advanced book required.

Why would she assign this expert level book to me?


She believed I had the potential and capacity to learn those markings, fingerings, and the necessary understanding of musicality. She saw beyond my limited skills to what could be. She knew that over the next sixteen years, I would develop the necessary technique on the bassoon to be able to play these challenging studies.

I slaved over the etudes in those early years, employing all sorts of techniques in an effort to just get through them (writing note names above every note in tenor clef sections, etc.).

Milde "50 Concert Studies, Opus 26, Nos. 1-25 Vol. I for Bassoon

As with most things we do not understand or find "too challenging," I decided I didn't like the music in that book. The fact was, I just did not have the experience yet to be able to succeed at playing these pieces or appreciate them for the challenge and beauty they offered.

Fast-forward sixteen years.

The other day, I came back to this etude book. I found that the fingerings that used to plague me now flowed easily. The clef changes didn't phase me a bit. I was able to transition between moods and styles in the etudes as though they were my own. What a difference a few years and a great amount of experience make.

Isn't it like this in our understanding of the Bible, as well? As children, we study the stories that are easy - the ones we can grasp. We avoid the ones that seem to pose more questions than they provide answers or that challenge us in ways we are not yet mature enough or ready to face. Then, as years go by and experiences build our spiritual "muscles," we not only begin to understand these more challenging stories, but we also see the "easy" stories with a different perspective:

  • Noah's ark is about more than saving two of every kind of animal.
  • The Ten Commandments are more than a list of things to do or not to do.
  • Daniel and the lion's den was not just a story about God shutting the mouths of hungry lions.
  • David's victory over Goliath was not the end of his battles.

I wonder how the next sixteen years will shape my understanding of the bassoon and the Bible? 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What do a basketball player, a musician, and an HR Analyst have in common?


For those of you who know me well (or those of you who have met me and made an educated guess, based on my not-so-subtle 6'0" frame), I played basketball for a number of years. Recruited in third grade to a team called the Magic by a set of twins with their dad as the coach, I ended up playing ball through my freshman year in high school. I had a blast! The height was my gift, but I had a lot to learn in terms of appropriate aggressiveness and technique.

As I approached high school, I experienced a few injuries and then faced the decision of whether to pursue sports, music, or both (I had started playing the bassoon in 6th grade and grown to LOVE it).

My initial goal was to do both. I thought I could handle it. Then, I hit a slump in my playing. Looking back, I realize now that I was trying too hard, viewing basketball as an
objective, all-technique game. I played as though I had to get all the answers right. While trying to play perfectly, I missed out on the flow of it all. Then, I was faced with an injury that, for me, was career-ending.

After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on my now twice-dislocated right shoulder, and as my interest in music had increased and I was applying for the position of drum major as a sophomore, I decided to set aside my high-top shoes and the court and wholeheartedly pursue music.

I had a wonderful musical experience in high school, enjoying years of marching band and concert hall performances. A few band directors, and one in particular, inspired me to pursue music education in college. For those of you music majors out there, you'll "Amen!" with me on this one: music courses in college are SO different from the AP, standardized courses in high school. There is an initial layer of
objectivity in music that must be recognized, honed, and respected, but ultimately music is a realm of subjectivity. The classes challenged me in ways I never expected and forced me out of my oh-so-tidy world of fill-in-the-blank tests. I am so thankful for that experience and grateful that I continue to have the chance to play to this day.

My career path ended up taking a new direction, however. I found that my professional interests were more in the world of business, even though my heart was in the music. So, I pursued an MBA in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management and found my perfect blend of objectivity and subjectivity. HR is a world of precision and ambiguity. There are hard facts and numbers to be dealt with on a daily basis, and then there are people issues to be handled individually while still applying company policy. I use both sides of my brain every day and am constantly challenged.

Only now can I look back at my experiences and see how they prepared me for this current role. Incredible, isn't it? Who would have thought? I think we all know the Answer to that question...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do you have time?

If you've read any part of the book of Proverbs, you've seen the word "wisdom" more times than you can count. The book is full of literary devices that support this focus: personification of wisdom as a woman, analogies, and comparison and contrast between the wise and the fool.

Sometimes, I have wondered at the definition of "fool." Does this mean a person who just doesn't get it? Can't get it? Chooses not to get it?

Dr. Michael Easley spoke this morning about the book of Proverbs and gaining wisdom, and he addressed the idea of the fool. He made it clear that the term "fool" is not a definition of capacity but of choice. For example:
  • "Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions." Proverbs 18:2
  • "Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others." Proverbs 12:15
  • "A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool." Proverbs 17:10
Acquiring wisdom is an intentional pursuit and a lifelong process. It takes time. It's not something we can find in a bookstore or online. It's not a degree we can finish in 2-4 years. It's a daily pursuit.

If I were to name a "life verse," it would be Psalm 90:12: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

I am a time-oriented person. I've learned how to plan the right amount of time for certain things. My top love language is quality time. When you give me your time, that speaks love to me. By the same token, when we spend time with God and the things of God, that shows our love and devotion. We should spend time with Him, in His Word, and with godly people as we seek to gain wisdom.

Society tells us that we don't have enough time to get things done. After all, many shows on tv are "one hour" or "thirty minutes," but they really last a fraction of that time because of commercials, which are themselves short and sweet and have to be super-catchy to grab our attention. Our attention spans grow shorter and shorter as we seek to fit the most into a 6.5-second Vine video or a 140-character tweet. We can't sit and carry a conversation at lunch without checking our phone for updates.

But if we set all of that aside and retrain our minds to focus, we find that we have plenty of time for the important things. So maybe the real question is not "Do you have time?" but "Will you make time?"

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Are you compassionate?


What do you think of when you read this word? Do you think of pity or empathy? Of sitting down with someone and letting them cry on your shoulder? Maybe you think of Compassion International and sponsoring a child in a foreign country. Maybe you think of Jesus.

When I think of compassion, I think of a trait I really want to define me. In fact, at different, pivotal times in my life, I have made this trait a focus of prayer - that I might be a more compassionate and less judgmental person. I think it is something I will have to intentionally pray about throughout my life.

Recently, I was confronted with a lack of compassion at work. The longer I am in the workforce (especially in my current industry), I see a strong sense of entitlement. Instead of employees coming to me with a request, they come with demands. Instead of thanking me for helping them, the response is more one of "Well, that's my right" or "You owed me." This has become so routine that my responses are often merely polite, if not guarded, when typically they would be more friendly and genuine. Sometimes, I find myself putting certain things off because I don't appreciate the way someone asked for my help. How selfish is that?

A sweet, older woman recently asked me for help with something, and I found myself putting off helping her. Besides it being a very busy week, I don't really know why I was reluctant to help. When I got the answer the next day, I sought her out. After explaining what she needed to do, the woman very graciously and effusively thanked me.

I was surprised. I'm not really used to getting a genuine "Thank you" from an employee outside of my team. It felt good...and it felt bad. I realized that I had succumbed to the whole "I'll treat you the way
you treat me" syndrome instead of treating others as Christ would. I've been acting like a child. Instead, I need to remember 1 Peter 3:8-9:
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.