Cajon (new beginnings)

Cajon07052001

Cajon07052001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cajon is Spanish for box, and it’s also what I got for Christmas.

Not just a box, mind you, but a box-shaped drum. The mellow accompaniment of this cleverly designed instrument is remarkably well-matched to an acoustic set with guitar and piano. Unlike the potentially overpowering presence of a drum kit (think drum solo), the cajon is part of the ensemble – a voice in the choir, you might say. Seated upon this quirky box, I am discovering things about music (and myself) in ways I never have before.

For starters, music theory isn’t the same as playing the drum. I know a lot about music from jr. high band and years of piano and voice lessons, but this head knowledge did precious little for me the first time I sat down to play the cajon. I remember tapping out the rhythm of little x’s on a page, but mechanical is the word that comes to mind when I try to play those little x’s on my drum. I may be able to crank out an accurate rendition of little x’s in succession, but there is so much more to artistry than accuracy (can I get an Amen?).

Playing alone is not the same as playing with other instruments. My home-grown drum solos rock my little house, but when I’m playing along with others they just don’t sound the same. Maybe it’s because on my own, I set the beat. I choose the groove. And I give myself lots of grace because no one else is listening! As part of the band, I have to behave. I have to rock steady. When I let loose, I can’t leave my band members behind.

The real challenge for me, however, is playing the drum on songs that I have been singing for years. You would think that familiarity would make it easier, but it doesn’t. As soon as I start thinking the words or even picturing the lead sheet in my head, I lose the groove I’m in. It’s an entirely different experience to make music atop my cajon than from behind a microphone. Words don’t help – they complicate.

This has been so obvious that the musicians I worship with have started to tease me about my inability to walk and chew gum at the same time. For a master multi-tasker, this news is almost devastating! What do you mean I can’t sing and keep a beat?! But I can’t. And it’s blowing my mind.

The Apostle Paul says something in Romans 12:2 that makes some sense out of what I’m discovering with my drum.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)

I’m finding that when I try to think the way I’ve always thought about music – even when I try to put music theory into practice – all of my passion gets lost in the mechanics. My mind has been trained to think in words and notes, but for the cajon to do its work I have to follow and feel. I think this is what Paul is saying, too. It’s one thing to study and think and strive and try to do things God’s way, but it’s something else altogether when God takes hold of me and shifts my thinking – changes my mind!

This kind of transformation – the stuff of new beginnings – isn’t something we have to muddle mechanically through. I can’t make this transformation happen – I can’t force rhythm out of words – but the God who formed me can move me from theory into practice by changing the way that I think.

Kevin Costner’s character in the film Bull Durham is asked to coach and train a gifted young pitcher for a career in the majors. This easily distracted youngster has a crazy-powerful arm, but absolutely no focus. It seems that the harder he thinks about placing the ball, the more erratic his pitches become. What advice is he given by his appointed mentor?

“Don’t think – just throw.”

When he follows his instinct and lets the ball fly, it’s a beautiful thing! When I listen to the guitar and piano and allow my hands to join in with the rhythm I find there, well – I just might have a drumming career in my future. Don’t think, Brita – just go with the flow.

For a forty-something to take up something new isn’t always easy. Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? You’re in good company! Embrace your awkward new beginnings, as messy as they may be!

Don’t force it – Just let it flow.

Yielded to the work of the Spirit and open to new ways of thinking, the rhythm that emerges will be worth the investment of your time, energy and mistakes.

Drum or no drum.

 

The Rescue (a PINK Tuesday post)

Save Me

Image by JamesReaFotos via Flickr

 

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.”   –John Stott

It’s been this way since time began.

 

The fact that you are still reading tells me that nothing has changed… SUFFERING a LOSS raises questions and doubts and fears and anger as it CHALLENGES our ability to cope and adapt and recover.

But the good news today is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone in your loss.

We don’t need to look beyond our own circle of friends & family to find others who are suffering losses, too. Our stories and their stories inevitably are marked by people, places, experiences and situations where what we once held dear is no longer ours to hold.

Consider the scriptures.

Story after story about people who not only experience the mountaintops, but the depths of grief as well:

Adam & Eve

Because of a choice that they made, they lost their fellowship with God AND their home in the Garden. Later in their story, they lose a son – or, perhaps they lost TWO sons – as the one killed the other in a fit of jealousy.

Joseph

The one with the coat. Lost his family at the hand of brothers who hated him. They sold him into slavery. Told his father he was dead. This same Joseph, trying to live a godly life as a slave, is falsely accused of sexual harassment by his boss’s wife and thrown into prison for years. NONE of these losses, by the way, were a result of Joseph’s choices. He had no say. They just happened TO him.

Job

Lost his children in one horrific accident. Lost his livelihood. Lost his health. All because of things going on around him that he had no control over. It wasn’t his fault.

David

KING David. The one we know as “a man after God’s own heart”. Lost his fellowship with the Lord, for a time, because of a series of bad choices that included sleeping with someone else’s wife and then having her husband murdered. David’s loss didn’t end there. Even though he married the woman he had gotten pregnant, she lost the baby. Lost a child. Another loss.

Elijah

The prophet. The one used by God to call down fire on a soaking wet altar, putting the competition in its place. Even Elijah suffered loss. Loss of hope. Loss of perspective. He suffered from depression. Depression that was undoubtedly linked to the death threats he had received from a very powerful woman. His choice? A chemical imbalance? Does it matter?! A loss nonetheless.

Finally, the Apostle Paul.

Wrote much of the New Testament. Spoke the message of Christ far and wide with boldness and passion. This hero of the faith found himself at the end of life, sitting in a cold prison cell, alone. Lonely. And he suffered from the loss of fellowship he had known – we know this because he wrote it in a letter to his friend, Timothy. We can read it in God’s Word.

What we ALSO read in God’s Word are words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

(He must be really STRONG in ME – weakling that I am.)

And,

“In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart – I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Our God makes it clear over and over again in scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18).

He tends to our wounds.

He is our RESCUE.

But just in case words like these sound trite and churchy to you, know that God “keeps track of every toss & turn through the sleepless nights.” Each tear and ache is entered into His book (Ps. 56:8).

There’s a Hebrew custom – the jar of tears – have you heard of it? At funerals, a tiny jar is passed around and each mourner puts a teardrop into it. The jar of tears represents the hearts that are suffering the loss of the person who has died.

I believe that God not only keeps track of the tears we shed, but that His big heart breaks for us in our suffering. And there is nothing that we are feeling or have felt that He, through Jesus, hasn’t felt before.

God is ready to do something big for you today! He’s coming alongside you in your suffering, your grief, your loss…

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God uses our experiences to prepare and uniquely position us to come alongside others who are suffering, too. The heading over this section in the Message Bible is “THE RESCUE”.

He rescues us, and then He gives us the opportunity to extend that rescue to others.

I see a rescue in your future, my friend.

Maybe it’s yours to be HAD.

Maybe it’s in your power to GIVE.

Either way, we had better get busy. There is SAVING to be done (praise the Lord)!

 

CREATING Space vs. FILLING It

 

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full.

 

Full of talk. Full of words. Full of opinions and agendas, served up without invitation for the rest of us to join in. Full of energypositive or negative – that proceeds to drive every conversation and interaction in its direction. Full of personality that draws attention to itself, shrinking the potential of our contributions by its overpowering, can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise presence.

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full of them.

Now, some people fill space because they require our attention in order to feel validated and in control. Some people fill space because they’re afraid of silence or obscurity. Others fill space because they have an agenda to pursue which, for them, is a higher calling than pursuing things like relationship and harmony and community.

There are those, however, who fill space because they sincerely believe they have something to give to God. The problem is that when we fill the space around us with ourselves, we create a vacuum whose suction effectively removes God from that space altogether, leaving us alone with our gifts and no Spirit to power them.

This is what resonates in the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome when he says,

“…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Romans 12:3 (The Message)

If you’ve ever worked as a teacher, you might understand this from a programming perspective.

We can plan a lesson, activity or event and approach it with the goal of filling the schedule to meet objectives and create outcomes for the participants. This would involve lots of detail as we seek to maximize every moment for the greatest potential gain of knowledge, skill or understanding. After all, as the teacher, you are responsible for providing your students with every opportunity to learn. Right?

In the church, this approach has been heralded for every kind of teaching. If you plan it (well), not only will they come, but they will learn and grow and succeed in the future because of your ability to fill the time.

The hole in this bucket, however, is created by the assumption that we know what they need to know. We can fill an hour or a weekend or a sermon series with every bullet point we think important, but that implies that we somehow know what needs to be heard by our students. Even when the Spirit of God is leading us to serve as teachers, none of us is so perfect a mouthpiece for the Holy that we can single-handedly (or, single-mouthedly) communicate God’s truth to His people.

I think we often misinterpret our Kingdom-work in this way – as a call to fill the room with our gifts, our vision and our passion (God-given though they may be).

What if we were to follow God’s instructions to King Solomon instead? Instructions given to this gifted, passionate leader regarding the building of God’s Temple – the place where God Himself would live?

“About this Temple you are building – what’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you, following my instructions carefully and obediently. Then I’ll complete in you the promise I made to David your father. I’ll personally take up my residence among the Israelites – I won’t desert my people Israel.”         I Kings 6:11-13 (The Message)

God tells Solomon that what’s important is how the people LIVE and that they DO what God has instructed. This is their work – to live obedient lives in front of God and one another! And what does God promise to do in response to their faithfulness? He will fill the space in the Temple. He will move in and live in community with them. He will be near and He will be present; God with us.

Physically, God instructed Solomon to build a building that would house His presence in an unprecedented way.

Israel was to follow the detailed instructions God gave in order to create space for Him to fill!

The exciting part of this story is that Israel did just that. They completed the Temple and created space for God to live among them. And God, in His faithful fulfillment of promise, moved into the neighborhood.

“When the priests left the Holy Place, a cloud filled theTemple of God. The priests couldn’t carry out their priestly duties because of the cloud – the glory of God filled theTemple of God!” I Kings 8:10-11 (The Message)

Oh, that we would live lives so faithful to the detailed instructions of our Lord that the space we create for Him here would be filled, not with ourselves, but with the glory of Emmanuel.

The presence of God.

 

Sprinkles (a PINK Tuesday re:post)

Close-up of cupcake with pink frosting and spr...

Image via Wikipedia

Sprinkles was originally posted as part of the Trek to the Manger 2010 at Pink Shoes Ministries.

No matter how hard I try to avoid it, the illustration of cake keeps surfacing as I search for ways to connect with you on this PINK Tuesday (sorry)! I’m not sure that the Apostle Paul would have jumped right to food in order to paint a word picture to accompany his letter to the Corinthians, but I’m the first to say, “if the boot fits…”

And this ‘boot’ is a good fit. Even if it is edible.

Hear these words from Paul on this PINK Tuesday:

“I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out. I want you to live as free of complications as possible.” 1 Corinthians 7:29-32 (The Message)

As free of complications as possible… Is that even POSSIBLE?

What makes it so ridiculously difficult to grasp what Paul is suggesting is our fondness for what my friend Nancy Whitney-Reiter calls “sprinkles.” In her book, Now Is The Time To Do What You Love, Nancy explains the benefits of downsizing:

“…most of us are surrounded by “sprinkles.” Using the analogy of a cake: the cake itself has flavor and so does the frosting. But what do the sprinkles really add? Empty calories. Take a good look around you. Chances are, you’re surrounded by things that you no longer use and likely never will.”

Go ahead – do it. Take a look around the room you’re sitting in right now. Think about the space you live in – your shelves and cupboards and closets.

What are your preferred “sprinkles”?

What are the things that make your proverbial cupcakes look colorful and cute but fail to add anything of substance to your life? What constitutes “empty calories” – things you consume that fail to nourish your soul?

I seriously doubt that the Wise Men of old traveled with sprinkles. I suspect that they limited their luggage to that which gave them nourishment, sustenance and protection for the journey. Surely they kept it simple, in order to be footloose enough to travel as the star led them. In order to keep up with God.

Personally, I fail the sprinkles-test every time I pack for a trip.

I might need this.

I could want that.

If it’s cold, I’ll need that.

If it rains…

You’ve been there, too. I can’t even stomach the thought of going camping because the what-ifs end up creating such an intimidating packing list. Either the stuff goes, or the kids go. Both won’t fit in the car!

It takes discipline to pack a week’s worth of personal items into a carry-on. And it takes discipline to simplify a life that has been complicated by the things the world thrusts on us. Even if we were willing recipients of those things, you’ve got to agree with Nancy when she reminds us that “you expend energy on your possessions. Simplifying your possessions allows you to redirect that energy…”

I don’t know about you, but I sure could use some energy to redirect as the school year comes to a close and summer ‘vacation’ begins! Maybe I could channel that newly-found energy toward the process of freeing up space in my head and in my schedule for the Spirit of God to come in and move me. Or maybe I have friends and family who need my attention, but I just haven’t seemed to have the time to spend with them.

Sprinkle-maintenance requires time and energy and attention that Paul tells us is better spent on the things that matter to God. In fact, Paul says that:

“All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions.” 1 Corinthians 7:35 (The Message)

I have a dear friend who just moved from an enormous house into a much smaller home – not unlike many of us who have been adversely affected by our country’s economic state. She was forced to downsize her estate within a very short time frame, creating stress and using up precious energy that could have been directed toward holding her family together in a season of emotionally challenging events.

What if we could choose to live in the same way that the Wise Men traveled – limiting our possessions to those which give us nourishment, sustenance and protection for the journey of this life that we are on? Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep it simple, in order to be footloose enough to travel as the Spirit leads us? In order to be able to keep up with God?

Take stock today of your sprinkles. Pay close attention to those possessions which drain your resources – time, energy and money. Consider asking God to help you give away these empty calories (or sell them on Craigslist)!

NOT so that you can turn around and shake some new, different colors on your cake, but so that you can direct more energy toward time spent together with the One who gave up everything for love of YOU.