Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I've been playing the trumpet a lot more lately. I recently re-joined Gateway Concert Band - a local community band here in the Enumclaw area. I think I chose the wrong time to join because I have only had two rehearsals with the band prior to this weekend's upcoming concerts. When I walked into rehearsal a few weeks ago I presumed that I would be happily cruising along playing a second or third part. Jack, the director handed me a folder of music and when I sat down I realized he had handed my a First Cornet part. Lot's of high notes, lots of fast moving black notes (all too tiny for my deteriorating eyesight) and lots of demanding music. By the end of my first rehearsal, I felt like I needed to put my lips in a sling and that I would never be able to use them again.

That was the day after my jazz group BY COMMITTEE had performed for nearly ninety minutes in our first ever "concert." (We had played for some dinner parties, a birthday celebration etc. This was a real live concert, with people putting money in donation trays to support our church's youth mission trip.) So, I thought I was pretty set to go. WRONG! When you are playing jazz, particularly in a group like mine, you may only play half of each song or less because the rest is solos. So 2 hours of rehearsal, playing nearly 75 - 80% of that time really had me worn out and discouraged.

Yesterday I recorded and watched a PBS televsion special featuring trumpeter Chris Botti. He is an amazing talent and a new phenom on the music scene. Blond, boyish looking, fairly small in stature, he can play the trumpet like few others. This show was recorded with the Boston Pops Orchestra and featured a number of special guests including YoYo Ma, Steven Taylor from the rock band Queen, several beautiful, sultry chanteuses singing classic jazz ballads and the person who really gave Botti his start in the music and recording business.

In between songs, he quipped that people often ask him what the secret to his success has been. He said he always answered with four simple things: "Practice, practice, practice and being good friends with (recording giant) 'Sting.'"

I don't worry about aspiring to any measure of the fame or greatness of Chris Botti. But there was something profound that struck me in what he said. First of all, you never get anywhere worthwhile in life without practice and hard work. Aren't you glad the Doctor performing surgery on your loved one went to school for long and then spent years honing his or her skill?

Due to my recent encounter with tough music and sore lips, I have been reminded of the necessity of practice. No matter how good I think I am, the final test is the music and whether I can play it. Without practice, it is unlikely.

The second thing about his "half-serious" remark that struck me is that where we go in life has a great deal to do with the company we keep. It's not that we get there simply by hanging on the coattails of others. But it is hard to become the person you want to or know you should be without keeping company with those who will encourage, strengthen, and hold you accountable. That's how we grow.

That's how Jesus prepared his disciples for the rigors of ministering the Gospel after he had ascened. The company of friends is a powerful force to help challenge and encourage us to go as far as we can using the gifts and callings God has given us.

This truism is revealed in a few different ways in my life right now. Judy and joined a new gym in January. One of the things that encourages and keeps me going is the knowledge that I might be (probably will be) asked whether I worked out today. If not, why not? The challenge of keeping up with Judy who is much more disciplined and regular at working out than I am keeps me going.

Same thing with reading the Bible. Knowing that I will be meeting with a group at the MINT tonight and leading a discussion over the portion of the Bible assigned for these seven days of the Through the Bible in 90 Days keeps me honest, accountable and on my toes. I am glad for that.

Tomorrow morning I meet with some fellow Presby pastors in the area. We meet once a month for prayer, sharing, encouragement and a little friendly, rear-end kicking if deserved. It helps us all be better husbands, fathers, pastors, and men.

So how do we get to be all that God wants us to be? Practice, Practice, Practice and be good friends with someone who will keep you going. Now I have to sign off and go practice Symphonic Suite and Celtic Dances so I don't embarass myself at the concert Sunday.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Keeping up with the times - electronically speaking (LOL)

I'm exhausted. My fingers are cramping up! My eyes are blurred and bloodshot. I need some coffee. Why this litany of complaint? Why all the discomfort you ask? Because I am trying to stay up with modern technology. Today alone, I have been asked to join three FaceBook groups; read two blogs; check out several YouTube videos and respond to innumerable, "urgent" SMS messages as my new Blackberry Phone merrily buzzed away in my pocket, signaling the arrival of yet another important communication. I have been invited into 2 instant message conversations on my computer while trying to write a sermon outline. Each time one of my online contacts signs in, I am notified by a little gong sound and notice of an IM conversation flashes across the bottom of my screen. Someone wants to talk. OMGWe laugh about it in our office because, though we are only separated by 20 feet distance, we tend to communicate with each other via emails or instant messages instead of getting up and walking to one another's office to talk face to face. Now there is a new voice is being heard. Perhaps you have seen it or heard of it. Maybe even some of you are doing it. "Twitter" is the latest way of staying in touch in real time. Just today I have heard at least three references to "tweeting" and A person who is on Twitter can tell the world what they are doing at any given moment - as if we were all dying to hear the intimate, sometimes strange details of a person's thoughts and actions as they are happening. Dos anyone remember landline phones? How about stopping by someone's house just to visit or taking time over a cup of coffee just to get caught up with someone you haven't seen for awhile. No, we live in an age of instant, electronic communication. I for one don't know, understand, or really appreciate the value of some of the abbreviated codes. I refuse to end each sentence with the cryptic LOL (oops, I guess I just did). You'd think that for an introvert like me, the anonymity and safety of electronic, instant communication would be a welcome way of interacting with others. But something there is, inside each one of us, that longs for the reality of eye contact, human voice, and, at times, even touch. That is what the incarnation of God was all about.

In order to make God's plan most clear, the Lord- the Eternal Word or logos - took on human flesh and lived among us. He invaded our planet; ‘moved into our neighborhood.’ "We beheld his glory, full of grace and truth," John says. The author of Hebrews agreed when he wrote - "Long ago and in many times and many ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, He has spoken to us through his Son.He is the exact radiance of God’s being" (Hebrews 1:1-3) God made us as communal creatures. We long for contact. We hunger for personal relationship. Last week, I was at a conference and I saw a friend I hadn't seen in some time. I knew, via some of the unofficial channels of communication in our denomination, that he had been going through a rough time over the last few years. He'd had some health problems. More recently he had resigned his pastorate of 25 years. I had assumed he probably was hurting and I kept thinking to myself, I need to contact him. Every time I sat down to write an email, I thought to myself that it would be too impersonal. But then I just kept putting off calling him to make arrangements to meet. My fault totally - not his at all. We had a great talk. I appreciated his candor about his pain and struggle. I also appreciated that he was willing to share some valuable lessons with me.
We parted saying we would get together in person when there was more time to really catch up. I hope I don't drop the ball. Lord, help me follow through. Let me be a person to my friend; an incarnation of your love and grace. I think I'll text him right now and see when he can meet. Oh, oh, I feel my phone vibrating. Better check it out. L8R!