Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Making a Difference

After my morning class ended, two students lingered and engaged me in a non-academic conversation. One of the young ladies recounted how her day had vastly improved. While at the gas station, a man noticed her parking tag and asked if she was a student at the college. She replied that she was enrolled in school and was preparing to transfer. The conversation went through the normal topics of major and future plans. Finally, the gentleman asked my student how much gas she had put in her tank. After hearing her response, he reached for his wallet, gave her the money to cover her expense (and added a few extra dollars for good measure), and encouraged her to "keep up the good work."

Occurrences like this one are not completely out of the ordinary. However, this was one of the first times that I had heard the story recounted by someone outside of a church setting. What struck me was how touched this young African-American woman was by the kindness of a stranger. Sure, the financial gift was appreciated, but I got the impression that the stranger's genuine interest in her pursuit of success was what made the most lasting impression.

Since hearing my student's story, I have been asking myself if I am making that kind of impact on people that I encounter daily. I believe that I am having a positive influence on those who encounter me in my work settings at the college and the church - but that is expected. What about the cashier at Wal-Mart or my waiter at Red Robin? Does my interaction with these random individuals impact their lives for good? Is such influence realistic or expected?

I try to be extremely kind to those who hold positions that I consider to be difficult. An extra smile for the tired bus boy and an authentic (albeit short) conversation with the cashier is my attempt to brighten what might otherwise be a lousy workday. But does it really make a difference? Do I cross paths with other human beings for the purpose of speaking words of life and encouragement to them?

As a Christian, I believe that such encounters do occur and that they are not merely the result of coincidence; rather, I believe that they are divinely appointed opportunities for sharing love with hurting people. While I believe that intellectually, I must admit that my actions often don't express that belief. Sadly, I allow my shyness and fear that the person might reject my kindness to stop me from going out of my way to interact with the stranger to whom I am drawn. I'm not necessarily talking about anything monumental here. Money doesn't have to change hands; many people are so lonely that just a compassionate interaction with another individual will change their day for the better.

Perhaps my aversion to these situations is a result of the number of times that I have been asked for help by panhandlers, the homeless, and others who I think could improve their situation through hard work. While I would like to justify my actions--or should I say my LACK of action--with this argument, I fear that the truth is that I have forgotten how much has been given to me and have taken my blessings for granted.

I can't say that I am going to start interacting with strangers daily, nor do I think that is a wise action. But I can firmly state that I want my time with people to count for something. The next time I feel impressed to speak to someone, I want to put aside my fear and step out in courage. I will probably never know if I have made an impact on a stranger's life. I can determine, however, that I will intentionally live my life in order to position myself to make a difference in the lives of those I daily meet. How about you? Will you join me in an effort to make our corner of the world a better place through your random acts of kindness?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple

Slowly but surely, I am returning to my normal schedule of activities now that life is becoming less hectic. Even though I have been extremely busy for the past few weeks, I refused to give up my reading time. With the purchase of my Nook (which I am STILL loving, by the way), I stumbled upon a book I had been overlooking for some time: Kevin Roose's The Unlikely Disciple.

Roose is a student at Brown University who takes a sabbatical and transfers to Liberty University, what Roose himself refers to as "America's Holiest University." While at Liberty, Roose encounters educators and students who practice various "levels" of Christianity. Toward the end of his semester, Roose manages to schedule an interview with Liberty's president, Dr. Jerry Falwell. The interview will prove to be Falwell's final print interview before his death. The Unlikely Disciple provides a look into the premises of the Christian faith from a non-believer's perspective.

Many issues are examined by Roose while at Liberty, but three seem to dominate his time: creationism, homosexuality, and prayer. While Roose's discussions are sometimes quite frank (especially those of a sexual nature), it was interesting to hear the arguments against the Christian stance on these issues. Throughout the book, Roose finds himself at points of decision where it appears he may convert (much to the dismay of his parents). Sadly, Roose does not come to faith in Christ; however, some of his writing over the course of the semester are encouraging to the Christian reader.

After a intense discussion with one of Liberty's pastors about the effectiveness of prayer, Roose determines to commit himself to an extended period of daily prayer to see what will happen in his life. Roose explains the outcome:

By the time I've spent my day like this [in prayer], dredging up every person in my life who could possibly be undergoing any amount of hardship or strife and praying for their needs, a few things happen.

First, all my problems snap into perspective. Compared to a girl whose stepfather was in a mine accident or an old lady having her hip replaced, nothing in my life seems all that pressing. Instead of obsessing over the ... quiz I bombed or the parking ticket I got, I'm focusing more and more on people with real hardships. . . Eventually, I go back to worrying about my tiny problems - I can't help it - but for those thirty minutes, I'm at least going through the motions of compassion. (Roose, p. 218)

What an insight for a person who finally comes to the conclusion that "I'm still not totally settled on prayer...but for now, it doesn't seem to be hurting anyone, so I guess I'll keep at it. When I think of the benefits I'm reaping, a little cognitive dissonance seems like a small price to pay." (p. 219) When Christians begin to intercede for the needs of others, circumstances come sharply into focus and our lives are pulled into a proper perspective.

A bit more distressing is Roose's comments on Christian education as he prepares to leave Liberty. After asking some of his friends about things they wish they could change about their college experience, students repeatedly say that they would have liked to have been exposed to more worldviews rather than being sheltered from the "opposing views of the left." Roose comments

I've always known that I'll be leaving Liberty after this semester, which is why I think I've been so forgiving of Liberty's academic flaws. But Stubbs doesn't get to leave. Max Carter doesn't, either. For both of them - and the rest of my friends here - Liberty's institutional shortcomings are no minor business. This is their college education, and for their sakes, I can't help wishing that Liberty would purge itself of the attitude that education is an enemy of faith. (Roose, p. 242)

I was fortunate to attend Pepperdine University, a Christian institution that allowed and encouraged exploration of the world's many ideas. Sadly, many Christians find such academic pursuits ungodly and undesirable for Christian youth. Rather than viewing education as an enemy of faith, see the possibility that knowledge can become an ENHANCEMENT to faith. A person's faith grows as they can explain what they believe and WHY they believe. In order to fully explore what absolute Truth is, one must encounter non-Truth to some degree; only when we are able to identify what is a lie can we firmly declare with conviction that we have found Truth!

The Unlikely Disciple is certainly not a Christian work and should not be approached as such. I do recommend it for those interested in Christian higher education as well as those who have ever found themselves at a crisis of faith.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What To Do?

I've been asking myself this question for a couple of hours now. You see, I've made it to the final week of Music Camp and am absolutely exhausted. Imagine my surprise when my eyelids vaulted open this morning and I turned to the clock and saw these horrible numbers.......4:05!

I tossed and turned for about an hour, frantically trying to go back to sleep. Doesn't my brain take notice of the aches in my back and feet? Wouldn't a few more hours of sleep ease the stress and fatigue? The longer I tried to induce slumber to return, the more awake I became. Now my brain began to go to other places that I had tried to avoid.

"I have so much to do today--much of it I have avoided since I had other things with which to deal," I thought. Such meditations do not bring relaxation and a return to the land of dreams; rather, I found myself revisiting my to do list. I grabbed my trusty phone on the bedside table and started playing Bejeweled for a while (thanks a lot, Patsy!) and finally accepted the fact that Mr. Sandman was not coming back for another visit tonight.

Now it was time to make a decision--do I just lie here or do I try to do something important and productive? That's when I realized that I hadn't shared anything with you, my friends, in several here I am! The sun is just beginning to come up through my bedroom window and I'm actually getting ready for the day. Feet and back are still sore--I anticipate a hearty dose of Advil in my future--and I'm looking forward to spending a few hours thinking about Beethoven later this morning.

So what's the answer to my question? What do I do when I feel overwhelmed and can't sleep? I take an escapist route by blogging about a day-in-the-life and then sit in bed and read for a while! It's not going to take things off of my to do list, but it will definitely take my mind off of things for a little while.

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My New Toy!

I have had my eye on it for several months now, but kept putting it off until I got a decent paycheck. This week, everything seemed to align perfectly. I got paid for summer school on Thursday, I needed a "pick-me-up" to get through the final week of music camp, and I was looking for an excuse to make a I am now the proud owner of a Barnes and Noble Nook! I love it--and haven't put it down much since I got it yesterday!

I love the convenience of purchasing books from the comfort of home and having them in my hand immediately. (Definitely going to have to keep an eye on THAT aspect of things!) Its lightness and thinness are greatly appreciated by this pianist's hands. Changing font size to fit my needs is an extra benefit. Let's not forget the fact that the books are slightly cheaper in many cases.

I've only spent a couple of days with my Nook, so I know I'm still in the honeymoon phase, but I have observed a few things about which I'm not crazy. Ebooks with internal links can be awkward to navigate; I'm hoping this improves as I become more familiar with the controls. Speaking of controls, I sometimes have a bit of difficulty finding the appropriate pressure to activate the color control screen at the bottom. It's not a matter of things not working--just a minor annoyance.

Now that you know about my new toy, I think I'll put away my computer and spend some more quality time with my Nook!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Where Did the Time Go?

It seems that I am constantly asking myself that question. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done that needs to get done. Late last week, I was expressing my frustration with a colleague who asked about my time management plan. I told her that I had tried using to-do lists and daily schedules repeatedly over the years, but the efforts always ended in frustration.

She then made a couple of suggestions and asked me to give it a solid effort for at least two weeks to see how things work. I'm at the end of week one and must admit that the results have been incredible. The plan sounds as though it requires a lot of time when you first hear it, but it doesn't take as much effort as you might imagine. Here's what I've been doing and what I'm discovering.

First,I began the week making a long-range to-do list. Limit this list to general topics and include any associated due dates. Your daily action list is generated from this list. What I have found is that I make the long-range list and then put it away. I can refer to it if needed, but the making of the list helped organize my thoughts. However, seeing the long-range items on a daily basis can lead to additional stress.

At the end of each day, I create a to-do list for the next day. The list is never longer than 15 items, broken down into 3 categories: A, B, and C. "A" are those things that really MUST get done. "B" includes things that would be nice to complete, but aren't essential at this point. "C" contains those actions that aren't pressing at all--and that I DON'T expect to accomplish. Both categories A and B are some aspect of a task on the long-range to-do list. List C is where I can toss in those items that are part of simply living life.

What I have found is that list C are often easy tasks that are rather mindless and can be pulled into my day where I would normally take a break. So, I'm resting my body and mind while accomplishing a mindless task that just needs to get done.

Now on to the scheduling of the day. This has been the biggest eye-opener for me and I hope it helps someone else. MY DAY BELONGS TO ME, SO I CAN DICTATE WHO GETS MY TIME AND HOW MUCH I WILL ALLOW THEM TO HAVE! For years, I had made every effort to accommodate other people's needs and wants into my day. This ended up creating massive frustration in my life as people showed up late to appointments and activities that should have required an hour ended up costing me three! Now, I clearly state from the start a beginning time for the appointment and the length of time that I will invest. Additionally, I intentionally schedule another activity immediately afterward so there can be no alteration. Is that a good practice? Probably not for all situations, but it is helping me to set some boundaries with those who have consistently abused my schedule.

Once I have scheduled where I need to be and when, I stop the planning. My to-do list now generates my activities. Since I'm a creative person, I can easily get bored with a task and hate the feeling of being tied down to a rigorous schedule. Now, I schedule hours at the office, but allow the to-do list to determine what I accomplish at any given moment. I'm just marking things off my list throughout the day. If I begin a task and leave it before I'm done, I just make a mark next to the item and move to something else that catches my attention. I do have to make sure that I'm not avoiding a task simply because it is unpleasant, but can return to it throughout the day.

To evaluate what I have accomplished at the end of the day, I tuck a notepad in my day planner and keep track of what I've accomplished and how long it has taken. This diary doesn't get too specific; I generally just include changes of locations and list the major tasks that I accomplish there. At the end of the day, I transfer the schedule to a journal and examine how much time was invested in the different areas of my day, how many to-do items I actually accomplished, and look for periods of time that weren't used to their full potential.

Maybe it's not the process for you, but it's done wonders for me this week. I'm anxious to see how valuable it continues to be when my life is not consumed with the hectic pace of Music Camp.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Reason Jesus Came -- and My Response

On Sunday morning, Pastor preached an anointed sermon entitled "Why Jesus Came" based upon the familiar passage in Luke 4:14-21. In verse 18 of this passage, Jesus reads from the writing of Isaiah and identifies five reasons he came:
  1. to save

  2. to anoint

  3. to heal our hearts

  4. to heal our bodies

  5. to deliver

As a Christian, I have personally experienced Christ's salvation. I have felt His anointing upon my life and have received healings of both my emotions and my body. After salvation, Jesus has brought deliverance to me from bondages (some of which I was unaware existed at the time) and continues to expose areas in which I need to have new levels of freedom.

In the days since hearing the sermon, my heart and mind have pondered a question: Now what? Christ has done amazing things in my life and I am eternally grateful for them. I have been taught since my salvation experience that my response to Christ's grace is living a life of service--one that brings glory and honor to Him. Still, that feels as though it's simply not enough. I'm not talking about trying to repay Jesus for His gift; the price is too high. I know I don't have to earn God's love and acceptance. I am confident in my role as His treasured child.

When I compare the depth of His sacrifice with my response, though, I have to wonder if there is a deeper level of service to which we are called. It's not a question of time commitment, but heart commitment. I don't necessarily mean going across the oceans and sharing the Gospel with those in foreign lands. (I must admit, however, that my relationship with the Woodward family, their work with Let's Start Talking, and Mark's blogs on short-term mission projects have challenged me recently to prayerfully consider this form of ministry. If you're not familiar with this amazing ministry, I encourage you to check out the websites linked above.)

As a child of God, I am now known as His disciple. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave His disciples some final instructions. This passage, commonly referred to as The Great Commission, simply tells the disciples of Jesus to "GO" into their world with the power of the Gospel. How many times each day do I encounter people who desperately need to be saved from the power of sin? Who in my world needs to experience the power of Christ's anointing and the hope that it brings? Numerous ones need to be healed of the emotional hurts of their past as well as the physical ailments they suffer. In this world of darkness, I daily cross paths with those who are in bondage as a result of their interactions with evil in various guises. I cannot bring salvation, anointing, healing, or deliverance, but I know the One who is all of that and so much more! May my life be an open invitation to a hurting world to come to know a loving Savior who wishes to completely transform their lives and allow them to experience living life to the FULL! (John 10:10)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Busy...errrr....Lazy Saturday

What was supposed to be an incredibly busy day turned out to be a welcome respite before the insanity of Music Camp begins on Monday. As things were getting cancelled, I was incredibly frustrated; sitting here at the end of the day, though, I must admit that it was the best possible situation.

I started to detail the circumstances that led to the cancellations, but I decided I didn't want to exert the energy focusing on the negative aspects of my day. So.....on to happy things.

After realizing that both rehearsals were cancelled, I headed for a quiet lunch at Panera Bread. I LOVE eating there; I don't know if it's just the bread that I adore or the atmosphere, but it always brings me a certain kind of peace. After a filling lunch, I decided to check out a bakery that I had read about last week on another blog: Muddy's Bake Shop on Sanderlin in the Clark Tower area of Memphis. I intended to just try one cupcake. When I stepped inside the shop, my eyes and nose were tantalized--and I came home with 6 cupcakes! As you can tell from the picture, only 4 of them remain. The "Classic" was good, but the chocolate frosting was a bit too sweet for my taste...but the Red Velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting----WOW! I want another one of those NOW! I have a feeling that I will be making another trip to Muddy's at some point during the first week of Music Camp. Sugar is a perfect pick-me-up when I'm tired and/or stressed!

Came home to do a little practicing of some solo music that I'm working on and then headed back to Dad's office to watch a documentary on the Van Cliburn competition. I really do enjoy hearing wonderful playing of the instrument I so dearly love. The rest of the night has been very low key for me. I've caught up on some television watching and decided that the work that I need to get done can wait until tomorrow. I needed some time for me. As soon as I'm done here, I'm going to curl up with my latest novel and a ice cold Coca-Cola before calling it a night.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hoping, Wishing, and Dreaming

I guess it's because my schedule for the next few weeks is insanely busy. Perhaps it's a symptom of summer-itis. Could be that I am a bit of a gypsy. Whatever the reason, today my mind has been cluttered with dreams of far-away lands, enjoying drinks with tiny umbrellas (minus the alcohol, of course), and curled up with a good book along the way. I've been planning my fantasy vacations!

One of the first that struck my fancy was an Alaskan cruise. How could anyone resist the beauty of the land? I've never been on a cruise and have to admit that I am apprehensive about being stranded on a boat for hours on end. Since I'm not into the whole "lounging at the beach" thing, I decided this would be a short enough adventure without all of the sun and heat.

After going to the Bavarian region of Germany a few years ago with the University of Memphis, I have always wanted to head back to this beautiful part of the world and explore more of Europe. I absolutely loved my short time in Salzburg, Austria and really want to go back. Of course, my list of cities to visit also include Prague, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, London, Madrid, or Rome. Sounds like the perfect vacation to me! If I were independently wealthy and could take the time off of work, I would spend months traveling throughout the continent, visiting museums and sites important to music history.

Since I probably won't get to leave the country anytime soon, I'll have to settle for a vacation in the States. Where do I want to go? While I love both Los Angeles and New York City and will go back many times, this is a time to explore something new. That means two areas are up for consideration: the Pacific Northwest and New England. With those choices, I want to head to the East Coast--preferably during the fall. While I would like to visit some of the metropolitan areas, I think I would prefer a scenic train meandering through the countryside.

I must come back to reality now. Vacationing will be a possibility in late July. Until then, my days will be spent teaching a classroom of students that don't want to be in school and evenings preparing a musical with children. Honestly, I love what I do and wouldn't have it any other way. I'll just hold on to some of the fantasy vacation planning to get me through some of the tough days to come.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Woo Hoo!

My professional blog, Collaborations, was just linked on Chris Foley's The Piano Collaboration Blog. Chris has over 1,000 followers on Facebook and is recognized as one of the online authorities in my field. It's just a mention, but it's definitely getting me some attention. Now I've got to get some real writing done!

Combination of excitement and nervousness now, but mostly on top of the world!

Monday, June 7, 2010


At the beginning of the final week of preparation before Music Camp begins, my feet are primarily on my mind. Choreography that needs to be taught isn't done, so I'm doing a lot of moving these days. My feet are giving me fits as a result; old injuries are coming back to haunt me. I still don't understand how I managed to incur a severe sprain playing flag football during a fraternity rush event (followed by 6 weeks on crutches in the hills of Malibu) or how I broke my right ankle playing with the kids in children's ministries one Sunday morning while no one else was around. Wait....I'm seeing a common theme here. No one is around and there is some level of athleticism involved. Not a good mix for me! Add to the image my recent attempts to become healthy again by running without having the proper shoes--you guessed it, another injury to my foot (right heel this time).

Despite the aching feet, I am praying that I also have beautiful feet at the moment. Isaiah 52:7 says, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!" (NLT) I have tried to remind myself today that the reason I devote my time, energy, and creativity to this annual event is to share with children the truth of God's Word and that He desires to make an impact on their life personally. His presence throughout the day has been so special during my preparation; for that, I am incredibly thankful! I pray that I will have beautiful feet in the coming weeks as I share the gospel of Christ with boys and girls through music and the Word and that children will respond to the truth they hear.

Luke 7 contains one of my favorite passages from the Bible. Here we read of a sinful woman finding her way to the feet of Jesus and pouring expensive oil over His feet as an act of worship. She brought the very best that she had--what others considered a waste of resources that could be used more effectively elsewhere--and poured it over the Master's feet. By doing so, she acknowledged that Christ alone was worthy of such an extravagant gift. Next week, some may view my investment of time as a waste. After all, they are only children. These precious ones are the ones that I have been called to serve. May my ministry next week be the very best that I have to offer in all areas and may I humbly place these at the feet of my Savior in an act of worship and praise, for "I've come to pour my praise on Him like oil from Mary's alabaster box!"

Saturday, June 5, 2010


When was the last time you truly felt desperate? You know the feeling. You’ve reached the end of your rope and you’re hanging on by your fingernails to the fraying knot at the end. Good-intentioned shipmates yell encouraging instructions to you, yet their advice is contradictory. As you observe the deck, you see your many responsibilities piling up, waiting for your return. The temptation to just let go of the rope and try life with the sharks is enticing, yet you continue to hold on for dear life. Sound familiar? Most of us must admit that we’ve been there at least once—and probably more often than we would like to admit! How did we get here and how do we pull ourselves out of this quickly deteriorating situation?

Culprit #1 for me is over commitment. You cannot imagine how many times I’ve been told to simplify my life, especially in the area of work. My response is always the same: HOW? As a new comer in the music field, finding a full-time job has been extremely difficult. In the past year, I have sent nearly forty résumés to colleges of all sizes throughout the country. No luck yet. So to try to make ends meet, I have multiple part-time jobs: adjunct professor, church musician, children’s pastor, piano teacher, and performer. In consideration of my professional development, the only one of these I could consider letting go is my work with the children at the church, but since all the church responsibilities are bundled as a package deal, there is no option for reducing my workload there either. For all my work, I often feel grossly underpaid and underappreciated on all employment fronts. My most significant source of income nets $1,200 per month; while I realize that is a respectable salary for a part-time position, the wages do not match the work and skill set that is required for the position.

The helpful advisors suggest finding a job in a different field until I land that elusive first position. In the music field—as in most of academia—such a move is career suicide. Taking a traditional job would force me to give up my college teaching position and would create a scheduling nightmare for my private students. The expectation of potential employers is that you are currently teaching private lessons and general coursework while continually maintaining a high level of performance. You can’t forget the time that must be devoted to personal practice, research, and scholarly writing as well. I’ve been called “lazy” recently for not wanting to add anything else to my life—accused of not having a strong work ethic. I can only smile and go on about my business; only those in the industry or who have ever lived with a musician can truly appreciate the tremendously challenging schedules the work demands while trying to eke out a living. Most think it is our choice that our jobs do not occur during the hours of 8am and 5pm. Today, for instance, my day began at 9am; I finally got home from a packed day of various work-related responsibilities at 10pm.

Now that I know what the problem is, it should be rather easy to find a solution. Right now, nothing seems further from the truth. Recently I have interviewed for a position as a church pianist with another area church. The pay is half of what I make at my current church job, but requires significantly less time, allowing for more studio teaching (assuming I can get the students—another dilemma of the profession). The prospect of no longer holding a leadership position and all the headaches that come with it is tempting. How I long to simply make music that brings honor to God week after week without having to listen to the constant bickering and complaining. I have also considered picking up a part-time job at a bookstore or similar company in order to have a stable income. It will eat into my practice and writing times, but will begin to alleviate the stress of feeling that I am living from one paycheck to the next. At the moment, I don't know what I am going to do.

Am I depressed? Possibly...I don’t really know. I think a better description of my current status is frustrated. It’s been a tough summer with personal attacks coming one after another from all sides. Rejection letters seem to come in on a daily basis and simply add to the discouragement. I have to wonder if I invested all these years of academic pursuits to merely exist unfulfilled in my work and ministry and unable to make a life for myself. I know the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 and I am desperately trying to hold on to that promise, but my grip is slipping.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More Than a Fable!

Last night, I watched The Invention of Lying with a friend. Quite honestly, it was not one of my better movie selections and I do not recommend it for viewing. However, it did raise an issue that has gotten my mind rolling this morning.

The basic premise of the film is that of a society in which lying is not a part of daily life. Everyone speaks the truth at all times--sometimes to the point of creating painfully awkward situations. Finally, the protagonist discovers that he is capable of telling a lie and that no one will question his truthfulness, despite evidence that points to the fact that he is lying. At this point, the premise is still funny before it takes a sharp turn that was disturbing in many ways.

The protagonist is called to the hospital where it is clear that his mother is dying. She shares her fears of the unknown and how scared she is in light of the doctors' truthful--yet terrifying--prognosis. Her son sits by her bed and determines to use his new-found ability to lie and weaves a story for her about an afterlife that is filled with happiness and the absence of pain and sorrow.

Word gets out to the public that the man knows what happens after death, so he spins a tale about the "Man in the Sky" who controls everything and ultimately promises everyone a mansion if they avoid doing more than three "bad things" in the course of their life. I think you are beginning to see where this is going.

While watching the film, I was struck by how effortlessly the screenwriters shifted from generic comedy to making a statement about faith and its absurdity. I don't think I have the words to effectively express how disturbing this cleverly disguised attack on faith and Christianity in general was.

As the characters learned that someone knew about the things that happen after death, the world basically stopped. Throngs of people flocked to the man's front lawn to get answers to their questions. News agencies prepared to broadcast his statement to the citizens of the world who sat with bated breath around their televisions and radios. When the "fable" is finally presented in a press conference, the man appears holding two tablets made from pizza boxes that hold the numbered, written messages from "The Man in the Sky" which were given to his earthly spokesman.

While the intention, I believe, was to suggest how gullible people are--willing to believe anything at all--I think another message was clearly stated. Humans innately know that there is more to life than just living here and they are hungry to know more about it. Mankind is constantly in pursuit of ultimate Truth. As a Christian, I have found that ultimate Truth in the person of Jesus Christ! What a privilege and life-changing realization this is!

What started as a discouraging attack on my faith has become a personal challenge. I know the Truth that a hurting world is longing to hear. How prepared am I to share the truth with them and introduce them to the One who is Truth? Can I effectively defend my faith against the arguments that it's all a fable, made up simply to ease the pain of daily living? It's time to realize that the job of sharing Truth is not one given only to vocational ministers, but is the responsibility (and privilege) of every believer. Do I have all the answers? Sadly, no. But I can live my life in the knowledge of Truth and prepare myself to answer the questions that arise in my world. What about you...will you accept the challenge today?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Let the Stress Begin

Tonight will be a short and sweet posting. Today brought a reality check that needed to happen, but also caused my blood pressure and stress level to sky-rocket! Music Camp, the annual two-week music program that I direct each summer for students ages 5-12, begins in two weeks! The show has been selected and the scores have been purchased, but I have done little of the work that is needed. Expect to hear more about these preparations in the coming weeks....I have a feeling they are about to take over my life.

Oh what I wouldn't give for a vacation right about now!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What is Talent?

Tonight I watched the premiere of America's Got Talent on NBC. Of all the talent competitions on television these days, this is the only one that I can bring myself to watch. Idol has become a joke to me--judges of a singing competition have to be versed in the field of music rather than just knowing what they like--and So You Think You Can Dance? is an attempt to elevate contemporary dance in a society that does not value the art form. I watch AGT for a couple of reasons. First, it runs in the summer and there really is not much else airing. Second, and more importantly, the show does not define the area of talent. Singers are competing with comics, dance teams, and circus acts.

As I watched tonight's episode, I was amazed at how often the unusual--dare I say, weird--was equated with talent. Yes, I watch people drill objects through their body, but not out of respect for their skills. Rather, I'm watching with a morbid curiosity of when is something going to go horribly wrong. Most of the time I was viewing the competition, I was wondering who told these people they were talented. Sadly, it often falls on the shoulders of loved ones who rarely have qualifications to determine whether or not they are good in their chosen performance area.

Talent is more than an natural inclination toward something. I enjoy doodling, but if anyone calls my drawings a great talent, I must tell them they are lying! Some of you have seen my stick figures's quite embarrassing to say the least. In my line of work, I often come across children who have some natural connection with music. They are naturally rhythmic or they easily process the printed notes on the page. Does that mean they are talented? I don't think so; it just means that they have a skill set that makes some aspect of the task easier than others.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "talent" as "a marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment; natural endowment or ability of a superior quality." I think this definition provides two aspects of the word talent that are often overlooked: "marked" and "superior quality." Just because a child can play the piano does not mean they are talented; they must display a superior ability, markedly greater than that of their peers. If anyone is going to claim that my sketches are the sign of talent, they need to be among the best that are seen in my immediate world. (Let the onslaught begin; I am certain that many of you will disagree with me and say that my expectations are too high. That's your opinion, but this blog is where I get to express mine whether you agree or not.)

Why is our world so full of people who think they are talented when the product they present does not measure up? Immediately, I have to assume that they have been told by a parent or family member that they have great skill. Why? The only thing I can possibly understand is that the comments are intended to be a source of encouragement and positive re-enforcement. Those are desirable outcomes to breathe into the lives of those we love, but not at the expense of setting them up for future failure and hurt. I would much rather see a child enjoy the pursuit of music for the pleasure of the experience rather than trying to live up an unrealistic expectation of extraordinary talent in the field.