This Is What You Are Looking For

I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the theater the other day.  I like watching those old movies that had such an impact, especially on the big screen.  They never have the same effect, though.  Maybe it’s because I know what’s coming.

Watching this one did remind me of one thing: the part music can play in story telling.  Close Encounters has that five note sequence: Re, Me, Do, Do, So.  John Williams is a master at creating simple note progressions that become a short of shorthand for the story itself.

Music can be more than enhancements to the story.  Music can be story in itself.

I recently read a biography of Beethoven.  I big book.  I had to read it in gulps.  There was a lot I just scanned, the stuff about specific keys and chords.  Completely over my head.  I did learn a lot about the man himself, though.  He was convinced at an early age that he had a gift.  I wonder if much of his anger and depression and isolation was because he was afraid that his gift would be wasted or would not find its place in the world.  All of us are born with a gift and few of us completely fulfil the promise of that gift.

Beethoven lived in the time of the French revolution.  He was thrilled by the promise of freedom, of the end to inherited royalty, the end to privileged aristocracy.  But then the revolution turned deadly.  Hope then depression.  Out of that came Napoleon, and Beethoven was again hopeful.  A benevolent despot. Freedom, equal opportunity, an end to poverty and hunger.  But then Napoleon made himself emperor and began to establish a new aristocracy, a new royal lineage.  Napoleon was defeated and a return to the old order brought even greater oppression.  Beethoven was once again thrown into depression.

The biographer again and again makes the point that Beethoven’s music begins somberly, then goes through turmoil and warfare and discordance, then ends with joy.  Always ends with joy.  Beethoven’s life and music were a lifelong search for joy.

This is nowhere more evident than in his last symphony, the ninth, named Choral.  It begins with a whisper, uncertainty.  It almost sounds like an orchestra tuning up.   From there it moves to the suggestion of warfare, of marching armies, of drums and trumpets, of battles and bloodshed.  It continues that way, growing ever more discordant and unsettling until…

The fourth movement is where Beethoven was heading all along.  (It begins at the 52 minute mark.)  Not far into it we encounter an old friend: that simple two note sequence we heard at the beginning.  But it sounds more confident, more sure of itself.  From there it moves on but this time there is not the sense of armies and battles and bloodshed.  This time the music conveys the sense of anticipation, of hope maybe?  A sense of something wonderful that is coming.  Embedded in the music are little three or four note snippets that give promise of that simple tune we know is coming,

Then it just stops.  Well, it doesn’t really stop.  Even with headphones you have to turn up the volume to hear it.  You can almost feel it rather than hear it. In my hillbilly understanding I call them bass fiddles.  They are playing that familiar tune, the one we’ve been waiting for.  In both my YouTubes the conductors have been conducting with great zeal and showmanship.  Now they, both of them, are standing quietly, just watching and listening.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s tradition.  Maybe everybody does the ninth that way.  But it does lend drama.  It makes a statement.

We dance and shout and run the aisles and we think that is where joy comes from.  But I think it’s that small voice, that whisper in my ear that can barely be heard.  That whisper that says ‘I will heal’, ‘I will provide’, ‘I will protect’, and that one whisper that is more important than all the others.  “I’m right here.’

Now instruments of a higher register join in and the cadence steps up a bit.  The violins come in an octave higher.  Then the brass joins in and we are lifted still higher.  Now the phrases in their excitement are tumbling over each other, one beginning before the last one is done.  At one point the violins go staccato, Bum Bum Bum, in their ecstasy, in their joy.

And now we come to the choral part.  I don’t know how you feel about it but to me German is not a pretty language.  But even at that we have been carried up to a place where even the singing transmits the feeling of joy.  We have been transported by the music.

The YouTube has closed captioning and the words convey a foggy sense of wellbeing.  Beethoven’s religion seems to have been an odd combination of faith and philosophy.  His idea of a better life felt something like ‘the fellowship of man’.  Better days ahead.

In some parts of the world, especially Japan for some reason, performance of the Ninth is a kind of new year celebration thing.  It’s a way to begin the year with a new hope, a vague promise that the next year will be better.

But we don’t depend on vague promises or earthy philosophies.  Our joy is not dependent on present or future circumstances.  Our joy comes from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit, from God the Father.  

It’s likely that the world around us will continue to get worse.  People will continue to look for relief in sex and drugs. They will continue to wallow in fear and anger.  But we can live above all that, in spite of circumstances.  We can live in joy, the unspeakable joy of the Lord.

And then we can say to the world around us ‘Here.  This.  This is what you’re looking for.’

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Comes in the Morning

Yesterday I posted something about joy.  I get something like that in my head and I can’t move on till I do something about it.  Sometimes, maybe all the time, I think it’s more for me than for anybody else.  So I write.  It may never come out of drafts or it may simmer for a few days or I may post immediately, like ripping a bandage.  Yesterday it was ripping a bandage.

I woke up this morning thinking I left the impression that sin was okay as long as you had ‘joy’.  That was not my intention.

Sin without confession and repentance will steal your joy.  Sin without confession and repentance will weaken your faith.  Sin without confession and repentance will silence that inner voice of the Spirit.  Sin without confession and repentance will lead to hell instead of heaven.  That’s kind of in your face but there it is.

Before I had gotten past that thought I stumbled on another one.  There are people in the world who have suffered unthinkable tragedy, tragedy far greater than the small upsets I have endured.  Who am I to tell those people that they should be joyful?

What can I say?  I don’t feel qualified to give advice but here I am anyway.  Don’t give up.  Argue, accuse, rail against the injustice of it but don’t give up.  Don’t stop talking.  Don’t stop listening.  Be alert for those little spurts of joy, unreasonable joy, that seem to come from nowhere.  Hang on.  God will not let go if you don’t let go.

The night may be far longer and darker than you could ever imagine.  But someday the morning will come.  And joy comes in the morning.

 

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He Has Turned My Mourning…

You know the mess we’re in.  Our culture has strayed from the path God intended, the path God expects.  Things are bad and they are probably going to get worse.

So how did we get here?  One viewpoint says it’s our fault.  It is the fault of Christians.  It’s movies and TV and alcohol and drugs and divorce and having the wrong kind of sex with the wrong people at the wrong time.  We have become just like the world.  It’s our fault. That’s one viewpoint.

But I beg to differ.

I don’t think it’s our lack of holiness that has changed our culture.  It is our lack of joy.  Angry Christians harping on the sins of the world repels the ones we are trying to reach.  Joy, the joy of the Lord, attracts them.  Battling all those sins makes us want them all the more.  The joy of the Lord makes them irrelevant and a hindrance to the fullness of His joy.

Two thousand years ago Jesus brought us joy, the joy of salvation, the joy of righteousness, the joy of fellowship with Him.  And now every day the Holy Spirit comes to give us that same joy.

I may be sick.  The Holy Spirit may or may not come with healing.  But He always comes with joy.

I may be in trouble.  The Holy Spirit may of may not come with wisdom to rescue me from my trouble.  But He always comes with joy.

I may be broke with the sheriff at the front door and the wolf at the back door and bankruptcy beckoning.  The Holy Spirit may or may not come with a check for a million dollars.  But He always comes with joy.

Jesus is not a general come to watch His troops march, each one in perfect lockstep with his fellow Christians.  Jesus comes to watch us dance.

In heaven I will not be marching in revue.  I will be dancing.

 

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Lost

There has been far too little nonsense lately.  If ever we needed nonsense we need it now.

I can’t let go of LOST.  I am forever haunted by what might have been.  Or maybe it’s what I wanted it to be.  I should have know better.

Anyway here is something sort of LOST like that got stuck somewhere in a wrinkle of my brain.

The conference room was well appointed.  The table was real wood, polished to a high shine.  The chairs were those mesh backed things that could be adjusted any way you would want to adjust them.

There were four men seated at one end of the table.  They wore expensive suits.  They had stern looks on their faces.  One man stood near the other end of the table.  Rolled up sleeves.  Tie loosened.  He looked nervous.  He had a remote control in his hand.  A huge television screen dominated the wall at his end of the room.

The man at the head of the table spoke.  “What’s this about?  Rumors are flying.  Something about pulling the plug on our Survivor ripoff.”

Nervous guy said, “This came in an hour ago.”  He tapped a button on the remote and the screen came to life, filled with a man’s face.  He was too close to the camera.  His nose was distorted, overlarge.  It was clear that he was angry and nervous.  His voice was barely above a whisper.

“You said the island was uninhabited.  You said this was a controlled environment.  You were wrong.  There are other people here and they really, really don’t want us here.”  He took a quick look over his shoulder then back at the camera. “They seriously want us gone and they are willing, eager to take steps to…”  He paused, considering the right word.  “…eliminate us.  You have to come get us.  Right now.  Before it’s too late.”

Nervous guy hit pause.  One of the suits said, “How did this happen?  Whoever’s responsible is gonna be history.”

Another suit said, “We’ve gotta put a lid on this.  It gets out, we have a PR nightmare.”

Suit at the end of the table said, “Okay pull the plug.  Shut it down.  How soon can we get them out of there?”

Nervous guy said, “We can’t”

All the suits sat up straight.  Head suit said, “Why not?”

“We can’t find them.”

The suits looked at each other in consternation.  Except for the head suit.  His gaze never left nervous guy.  “You know the coordinates, don’t you?  Surely we know where we left them.”

“We do but we’ve looked there and they aren’t there.  We’ve been there.  There’s no island.  We’ve used planes, ships, radar, sonar, satellite, infrared.  We’ve tried everything we could think of.  They aren’t there.”

“You must have gotten the coordinates wrong.  We left them somewhere else.  Widen the search.”

Nervous guy gestured at the screen with his remote hand.  “See those coordinates on the lower left corner?  Those are  transmitted with the video.  That’s where they are.  We know exactly where they are.”

He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at the suits.

“They’re just not there.”

 

 

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Diner

 

Henry, patriarch of a large family, is upset because his wife has gone off for a month long junket of painting and crafting.  He discovers that he can’t keep the house clean, he doesn’t know how to shop for groceries, and he can’t feed himself.  He starts going to the local diner for lunch.  He meets another old guy there.  Call him George.  Henry doesn’t take to him at first but over time a friendship blossoms.  Even after his wife comes home Henry continues to go once a week and hang out with George.  Over time it becomes clear that George is a Christian, not by any overt means but just idle conversation makes it clear that God and Jesus color every part of his life.

One day Henry is particularly despondent.  He says, “George, I think I’m losing my wife.”

“What makes you think so?”

Henry toys with his coffee cup, looks at the dregs in the bottom.  “She has ‘other interests.’  Running off to who knows where to paint and craft.  Always busy here and there.”  He looks up at George.  “It’s like I’m not enough anymore.”

George shrugs.  “She can have other interests, can’t she?  It doesn’t mean she doesn’t still love you.”

Henry looks vacantly at the area behind the counter.  “Actually it’s my whole family.  Youngest daughter’s marriage is coming apart. Youngest son is irresponsible.  Won’t grow up.  The other daughter…  Well, her life is a constant train wreck.”

He turns to face George.  “Of course you don’t have any problems.”  A hint of sarcasm creeps in.  “You’ve got this God that fixes everything.”

George says, “Sure, He’s been good to me.  He’s answered prayers.  But it’s not been all rainbows.  One of my kids lives in Portland.  Another one in Texas.  I’m lucky to see them once a year.  I have grand-kids but I never see them.  We talk.  Father’s Day, birthdays. holidays.  I call them more than they call me.  They say I can see them on some electronic device but heck if know how to do it.  Oh, they’re good kids.  Just busy.  I know that.  I just miss them.”

He turns back to his plate and fiddles with the remains of his salad.  “My wife died thirty years ago.  I still miss her.  Every day I miss her.  Sometimes I still find myself wanting to tell her about something that happened.  Something funny.  Something sad.”

Henry waits for him to continue.  The silence grows.  Henry says, “So what’s the deal?  This religion thing.  Pearly gates?  Get out of hell free card?  A family tradition?  Habit?  What’s it for?”

George lays down his fork and sighs.  “I suppose there was a time when it was about heaven and hell.  Maybe there was a time when it was more about answered prayer, what He could do for me in this life.  But now…”

He pauses.  Henry waits.

“Sometimes I get lazy.  Don’t pray.  Don’t read my Bible.  Just kind of quit hanging out with Jesus, you know?  But then I catch myself and get back on track, not because I want to go to heaven or I don’t want to go to hell or I want my prayers answered.  No, I get back on track…”

He turns to face Henry, eyes glistening with the beginning of tears.

“…because I miss Him.”

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I’m Still Here

I messed up the other day.  Not that I don’t mess up often, probably at least once a day, but this was a bad one, out in the open, in front of people.  I felt bad about it.

I was still feeling pretty miserable Saturday when I went walking at the rec center.  I chose a playlist as always but I didn’t choose gospel or worship.  I chose classic rock.  I don’t know why.  The second song that came up was Bridge Over Troubled Waters.  Not gospel or worship but God spoke to me through it anyway, through Bridge Over Troubled Waters.  He said, “I’m still here.”

Bridge, the song and the album, came out in January 1970 and a war weary nation embraced it.  I bought it and kept it going constantly on the turntable (vinyl, you know.). Even now I listen to my playlist and expect the next song on the album to come up instead of what’s on my list.  Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Let It Be (May 1970), You’ve Got a Friend (1971).  A nation sick of the turmoil of the sixties, sick of assassinations and riots and protest and failed presidents grasped for them desperately.

Here is Bridge Over Troubled Waters, not the best performance but it has that piano accompaniment that I love.  It still gives me goosebumps.

Something else came out of that weariness.  The Jesus movement was born.  Young people were being saved out of alcohol and drugs.  Churches were opening coffee houses to minister to those who would not darken the door of a Church.  A new awakening was born that became the beginnings of the Charismatic Movement.  People wanted a bridge over their troubled waters.  They wanted to hear they could ‘let it be’.  They wanted to know that they had a Friend.

I wonder if we are on the edge of something like that again.  I wonder if there are people out there who are weary of the fear and anger and strife and finger pointing and name calling, people out there who are looking for a foundation, a hope, a friend, a bridge over their troubled waters.  The question is what answers will we give them.  Will it be political solutions?  More anger?  More finger pointing?  More name calling?  Or will we have Jesus to point them to?  Will we have enough Jesus in us to light their way?

Will I have enough Jesus in me to light the way?

 

 

 

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The Apostle of Love

If you were going to choose the apostle who was most radically changed by the ministry of Jesus, I think most people would say that would be Paul.  He went from being Saul, persecutor of the church, to Paul, missionary, preacher of the gospel, writer on one third of the New Testament.  An impressive reversal.  But I wouldn’t choose Paul.  I would say John was the most radically changed of all the apostles.

Jesus called James and John sons of thunder.  They were the angry young men of their day.  Revolutionaries.  They wanted to call fire from heaven down on those who would not feed them.  They were ambitious.  They wanted to sit on Jesus’ right and left when He was elevated to His throne.

But John was changed, radically changed.  Matthew’s gospel was about the Jewish Christ of Old Testament prophecy.  Mark’s Christ was the Romanesque, make things happen Jesus.  Luke’s was the Son of Man.  But when we are asked where someone should start to read the Bible we say read the gospel of John.

The gospel of John captures the essence of Christ, the aura of Jesus.  It is touchy feely. Those three chapters near the end, the last supper, captures the Jesus who was personal, who was friend, who was love.  John wrote his epistles and they can be summed up in three words.  ‘God is Love’.

John was radically changed by Jesus and when he decided to write about how it had happened he didn’t write about Jesus’ oratory skills or His charisma or His teaching ability.  He wrote about His love.  At the end of that last supper he called himself ‘the one whom Jesus loved’.

So how do we reach people with the gospel?  Do we depend on speaking ability or charisma or compelling arguments?  Do we grasp for power, for authority, for influence?  Do we call down fire from heaven on those would would hinder us?  Boycott, march, blog and Facebook?  Maybe there’s a better way.

Maybe we are most powerful, most dangerous when we lay down or weapons, when we make ourselves vulnerable, when we love, when we love God, love our neighbors, even love our enemies.

 

 

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