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.

 

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Sometimes I’m the Light Bulb… (a PINK Tuesday post)

English: High Resolution black and white photo...
Q: How many egomaniacs does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. He holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.
Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  How many can you afford?
Q: How many board meetings does it take to get a light bulb changed?
A: This topic was resumed from last week’s discussion, but is incomplete pending resolution of some action items. It will be continued next week. Meanwhile…
Q: How many campfire worship leaders does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. But soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.
Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. But the light bulb has to really want to change.

Even Wikipedia has a page dedicated to defining the cultural phenomenon known as the ‘light bulb joke’:

A light bulb joke is a joke that asks how many people of a certain group are needed to change, replace, or screw in a light bulb. Generally, the punch line answer highlights a stereotype of the target group. There are numerous versions of the light bulb joke satirizing a wide range of cultures, beliefs and occupations.

Many versions of the joke are puns on the word “change”.

Some jokes are purely for fun – to elicit a grin or a belly laugh – but it’s funny how we also joke about the things that bother us the most. Things like… CHANGE.

‘Change’ is equivalent to a four-letter word for many of us (just ask a woman approaching her 50’s what SHE thinks about the CHANGE). In the spirit of Dire Straits’ lyric for ‘The Bug’ (‘sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug’), sometimes I feel like the light bulb in all of these silly change jokes. Growing dim. Fading out. Flickering. Failing. No longer functioning the way I used to (the way I ought to). Powerless to bring about the change that’s needed most – because what really needs changing is me.

There are also times when I feel like the proverbial butt of all of those light bulb jokes. Instead of taking the most direct route to meet the needed change head-on, I drag my feet. I complain. I call for back-up. I make excuses. I lean into my personality or quirky tendencies in an effort to avoid the task at hand. Instead of simply making the change – replacing the broken with the functional – I try desperately to do it my way instead. Anything to delay the change.

The writer of Proverbs knew this about us.

Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” Proverbs 20:30 (Good News Translation)

Like it or not, our unwillingness to see change as a good thing is actually a root cause of many of the tears we shed. Paul knew this. He had written words to the church at Corinth that had resulted in some tears on their end. Instead of apologizing, though, Paul said this:

But now I am happy – not because I made you sad, but because your sadness made you change your ways. That sadness was used by God, and so we caused you no harm. For the sadness that is used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation – and there is no regret in that! But sadness that is merely human causes death.” 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (GNT)

Sometimes God uses the tough stuff (when we’re feeling like ‘the bug’) in order to bring about the change that we are content to forever tap dance around, if left to our own devices.

There has got to be a better way, my friends! John the Baptist must have had these inklings, too, when:

“In many different ways, John preached the Good News to the people and urged them to change their ways.” Luke 3:18 (GNT)

Wouldn’t it be better all around if we would heed the wisdom of the Baptist and take the initiative to change the light bulb (or the relationship – or the situation – or the priority – or the behavior) ourselves?! Difficult as this may seem, it’s exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans chapter 12 when he warned his readers not to become “so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (v. 2, The Message)

To follow Paul’s line of thinking requires us to look at change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Facing change squarely and not backing down makes us think outside the lazy box-life that many of us lead – as Paul said it – ‘without even thinking’. Change engages our minds and invites us to participate in our own lives rather than spectate, watching life unfold from as great a distance as we can muster.

Shifting focus from the ways of the world to the Way of the Word ushers in the NEW! New feelings! New choices! New ways of being in the world!

As uncomfortable and disconcerting as change can often be, it always does one thing very well…

Living in the eye of the hurricane of change confirms that, YES! You are alive! You don’t have to numb out to the predictability and monotony of the same old routine. You may be bruised and you may be bleeding, but you have the choice today to become the embodiment of Jimmy Buffett’s lyric: “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” (Growing Older But Not Up)

To live a life that defies every light bulb joke in the book will require that you stop dwelling on the light bulb that needs to be changed. Of course the bulbs are going to burn out – they aren’t made to last forever. Of course the things that are working in your life today will one day begin to flicker and fade – this life wasn’t made to last forever, either.

Resolve this day to make the change you need to make, but don’t let that change capture your attention. Instead, fix your eyes on the One whose light will never grow dim! With Him, change won’t get the better of you.

You’ll be changed! From the inside out.