Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ending on the Wrong Note.

I come from musical people. My aunts were pianists. My dad was a drum major turned Church of Christ song leader turned preacher. I was forced to sing with my sisters in public even though I was quite shy. We sang together as a family. We sang all the time. My dad would break out in song in a crowded restaurant and probably still does. Let's just say, for an introvert, my dad's extroverted public singing made it easy to move away for college. (As the years have passed, I love getting to sing next to my sweet dad now.) I took classical voice lessons for nine years and played the flute for twelve. I began college as a music major but quickly determined that music theory steals some joy from the music itself, at least for me. And now I have a child who loves music. She is a cellist, a pianist, and quite a beautiful vocalist. I love that we have music in common. Though, she can read music far better than I ever could. She finds the term "Orch Dork" endearing (Orch= Orchestra).

One of the first things you learn in basic music theory is that songs usually end on the tonic note. I will take a stab at explaining this while my true musician friends bang their heads against the wall at my feeble attempt. The tonic is the first and last note in a scale. Songs written in a certain key signature will usually end on the tonic in the key they are written. There are other endings, of course, V chords and a IV7 nonsense chord, but I'm not getting into that because I'm a music theory drop out. Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. Music is an art form and people love to write artsy things and break rules. I am a rule girl, though. I love rules. Rules, I get. Modern art, I don't. Songs should end on the tonic. Always.

This weird issue I have with the tonic note (or I chord for my musically nerdy friends) has spread genetically to my daughter, and we struggle with this especially in worship. I feel that anyone who truly understands the rules of music must struggle somewhat in worship because it is difficult to separate the notes from the emotions and intent of worship, and you'll either be a slave to the notes on the page or let go completely and sob. It is a struggle for me to not judge the people around me when they are clearly not reading the music. I judge. I confess. Suffice it to say, I am more comfortable in worship when I do not see the notes. I find notes distracting, and I really need to focus on the words of praise not the loud soprano singing a self-composed tenor harmony behind me. Unfortunately, now my daughter struggles with this. I feel responsible for her curse.

At the end of any worship song that takes artistic license and ends on some random unresolved chord, my daughter and I always resolve the song by quietly singing the tonic. It's like a disease. We sincerely struggle to control ourselves. But seriously, do any of these contemporary christian artists care about the poor tonic note? Do they just not know this rule? It is so much happier to end on a good note. We crave that resolution so much that we sing it ourselves out of rebellion quietly in our church pew. Death to all unresolved song endings!!

There is a life story here in this tragical ending of a potentially lovely song. Life does not always end on the tonic. Life can be quite dissonant. In fact, it always is.

No matter how much we strive to end relationships on a nice note, sometimes they end poorly.
No matter how hard we try to hide our own imperfections, they are still there.
No matter how hard we make ourselves look perfect on the outside that dissonance of past failure, current heartbreak, and fear of the future still rears its head.

Dissonance will show up in our lives even as we smile and fake our way through to the end. The beautiful aspect of an unresolved chord, if I can muster the strength to find beauty in it, is that unresolved cadences in music are like questions floating out in the air waiting for you to resolve them.
Life is a chord crying out for the tonic, and unless we attempt to resolve it, the dissonance flows out there in the air forever.
I want to encourage you to attempt resolve the chords in your life that are crying out for a tonic note. Finding the tonic in your life means talking to an adversary. Apologize. Own your mistakes. Take responsibility. Forgive. Walk away from bad relationships. Talk to God. Take whatever steps you need to take to reach resolution in your life.

My daughter and I will probably continue to struggle with songs with sketchy and artful endings, but hopefully it will act as a reminder to keep us working toward the tonic as we seek resolution in our own lives.

"So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer." -Augustine Confessions, book 10, Chapter 33

-All credit to my minute amount of musical understanding in this blog is given to my dearest friend, Brianna Carroll, who tried to justify and explain irrational song endings to me with such beautiful expertise and only a bit of ridicule and frustration. Congratulations on completing grad school, friend. The world is blessed because you live and sing within it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Traveling Light

Five apartments, nine houses, and five dorm rooms:  the cumulative totals of earthly dwellings between my husband and I. Dave and I have moved a bit in our lives. We have ministry and military friends who have moved more. We have friends who have shipped belongings over the oceans more than once. In these moves, these transitions, we have learned many life lessons. We share these similarities with our fellow movers and shakers and often laugh and cry over the burn of learning them.

We've learned that love lives and grows even across miles.
We've learned to sort, sell, toss, and separate emotion from the inanimate.  
We've learned the art of wisely choosing new friends, while hanging on to those left behind.
We hate the necessity of garage sales.
We carry a deep gratitude for Facebook, texting, and email.

Of all these life lessons one lesson my family has cherished is to travel light. We know that lasting joy comes from moments and people, never things.

I remember the moment during our first youth ministry when we discovered that a fifteen passenger van full of teenagers had rolled while pulling a trailer full of luggage behind. I remember the heartache when we learned a teen had passed away in that accident. All we could think of was the youth minister that had to carry the pain and guilt of this nightmare for the rest of his life. What did he say to the parents? How did he address his church? What would we do in the same situation? 

That moment was the moment the backpack rule was born, a rule created out of fear, a reactionary new standard. The backpack rule means that on every youth trip each teen is only allowed a backpack for the entire trip as their luggage. They each carry their own pack. They pack light and tight. 

Our first youth ministry took to the backpack rule easily. I feel the primary reason for that is the Northwest culture we enjoyed in Portland, Oregon. God bless the Northwestern folk who know the joy of living simple and green!

The joy that has come out of this rule is hearing from students now, five, ten, and fifteen years later, who still employ the backpack rule as adults and in their families. I remember a sweet teen girl who carried a hairspray can the size of a nuclear bomb. My husband joked with her that he could fit one of our sons in her purse. She, now as a college student, packs in a backpack for short trips. Mission accomplished. Lesson learned.

Our family adheres to the backpack rule on vacations, and I can't tell you the simplicity of getting in and out of a hotel room when every kid carries their own stuff, and mom and dad are not burdened with or expected to lug five suitcases around. Not to mention the rewards of training a child that they need very little in life to be happy and content, and this usually doesn't include a DS or an I Pad.

When you employ the backpack rule, you separate necessity from waste. You learn what you truly need to live, and I promise you, it is very little. 

Fifteen years later the backpack rule has grown into a spiritual discipline for our family. In my husband's youth ministries, he still expects that students adhere to this rule. Sadly, the most difficult audience to convince is often the parents. My word of warning as I approach my 40th year on earth: there is a real danger in falling into the trap of justified materialism. Unless you practice daily reminders of what truly is important in life (and it isn't found in a new bag, boots, or bottle), you forget that you need little to survive and you start to "require" more creature comforts. Justified materialism believes that God loves us and blesses us with things, so it is OK to own a LOT of things. God does indeed bless us, but only so we can bless others not so we can accumulate objects.

Friends, if there is one thing scripture teaches strongly and clearly, it is warning after warning of the love of money and the dangers of materialism. Jesus asked the rich young man to walk away from his belongings and give them to the poor (Matthew 10:21-22). Could you? Would you walk away from your home for the sake of someone else? How sad that we struggle with giving up a large suitcase for a backpack for a weekend trip!

We all brought nothing into this world, and while the people of earth may measure us by our things, God is wondering what we will do with it all. Will you use what you have to serve you or others? Are your things owning you and disallowing you from living simply and focused on the Maker of heaven and earth? Are we teaching our kids to be reliant on the right outfit or are we clothing them in acts of generosity, good stewardship, hospitality, and kindness? Are we heading out to serve the poor carrying more in our suitcase than they will ever own?

Perhaps those of us who have had to box up everything we own are truly blessed. We are gifted with a special message that's loud and clear. The important things in life don't get packed in a box.

May God continue to help us let go of what our hearts think we need temporarily, so we can firmly grasp on to the provider of what is eternal.