Seven Robins

I had a great idea this morning. I awoke and thought, “How ever many robins I see today, that is the number of things I will share on my blog.” Of course, I realized early this afternoon that I had no chance of seeing any robins if I stayed home all day. I could have justified staying in (strep and bronchitis and green phlegm, you know), but I took a gander and went for a drive and a short walk, which presented me with seven robins. So here we go. Seven Robins for you on this beautiful April day.

Robin One
I awoke to the sound of honking geese this morning. You cannot know (unless you live in the Upper Peninsula, where winter–which is always long and fierce–felt particularly long and fierce this year) how the sound comforted me. Mother Nature, nice try; but the geese have voted for spring. It reminds me of what Pastor Drake used to say: “Faith is believing, in the middle of winter, that spring will come.” How I’ve clung to those words this winter. How thankful I am for geese, and the underlying promise of at least a few months of warmth and sunlight.

Robin Two
We are in the final countdown–the last week before the Marquette Choral Society concert. If you’re in the area and you need details, please don’t hesitate to ask. I would love to see you there. This concert is going to be amazing. I am praying today that my voice returns so I can perform with the choir. I, however, am surrendered to the knowledge that God knows what He’s doing. I don’t want to miss what God has for me, even if it’s not what I think I want.

Robin Three
My goal was to write letters today. I’ve written one. It seems about par for the course, and I refuse to feel bad about it, considering my current state of phlegm. I have received several in the last few days that deserve my attention, however–and the promise of one to hopefully arrive this week. I love receiving letters. I need to love writing them again.

Robin Four
I am reading The Lord of the Rings again. It never gets old. I am always slow to start. I find that it takes me awhile to suffer through the first part of The Fellowship (Book One). I want to pull my hair out and scream, “Just get out of the Shire!” It takes so long, but I suppose that is my movie-centric instant-gratification nature. And, I’m sure, it’s also that The Two Towers is my favorite, and I’m eager to get there. Still, it never gets old. It’s like visiting old friends.

Robin Five
I’m considering a trip to Israel next year with my sister. There is someone in my life (not really “in” my life so much as…”randomly appearing once in a blue lagoon”) that I spoke with a few years back and shared (for the first time in my life, really) my desire to visit Israel. I never thought–not even in my craziest dreams (and Lord knows I’ve had some doozy dreams)–that I would actually be telling you that I’m possibly going to go there. It’s not written in stone; it’s not even written in ink or charcoal. It’s pretty much just feathers in the wind right now, but…feathers can give you flight, I suppose.

Robin Six
I’m also considering…very prayerfully…a Compassion Sponsor Tour. It has long been a desire of mine to travel to a third world country; and it has lately been wedded with my desire to meet and hug and take a photo of myself with Joseph and Moise–my two boys. It’s a long way off, and it would require funds that I can’t even fathom having to my name…but…there’s something stirring in me about Burkina Faso. I want and need to be there. I think. I’m not sure. I need to pray about it more and think about it less. Compassion has a tour going next year, so I have time to pray on it. I invite you to pray with me. Registration opens late next month, so I hope to have made a decision by then.

Robin Seven
And finally, Robin Seven: If you’ve seen the Dove video floating around the web, don’t believe it. Beauty is about so much more than physical appearance, and even those of us who greatly lack in that department…are beautiful. Your worth, your identity, your character–these are not determined by whether your face and body appeal to others. Go out and be who you are, and be fully that. Change the world. Find your purpose. Chase your passions. Forget beauty. Those who love you don’t need it; and those who need it don’t love you.

Pax Christi,
semmie.

Watch Floyd

Watch Floyd.

Or…Look Up.

Or…Fix Your Eyes.

Or…”Then Let All the Living.”

I can’t decide on an appropriate title for this blog. There are so many good choices.

In just under two weeks time, the Marquette Choral Society will be performing our spring concert. I can’t wait to tell you about it. I think I love this music even more than I loved the music last spring. I feel connected to this program for a few different reasons, but I won’t bore you with those details tonight. In two weeks, I promise to share my thoughts about the concert, the material, and (best of all) my Floyd quotes from the semester. It hardly seems like we can be so close to performance…

Anyway, I had something of a revelation last night during rehearsal. We are singing several incredible (and difficult) pieces of music (those Germans know how to write a hymn, yo). We were working on a piece from one of my newest favorites, Heinrich Schutz, entitled, “Dank sagen wir alle Gott”–or, We Offer Our Thanks. It’s a beautiful hymn in a sort of flowing 6/4 time.

At least, the first page is. I confess that I’ve been struggling with measure 11. It’s right there on the page, easy as can be–a half note (two beats), then a quarter rest and half rest (three beats of silence), and a quarter note (one beat). It doesn’t sound hard, does it? The two notes are even the same pitch, so there is absolutely nothing about this measure that should be difficult. All semester as we’ve worked on this, I’ve chided myself: “If you were able to sing the 7/8 song last semester, and Zadok with the organ the semester before that, there’s no way you aren’t going to master this simple measure.”

Yet…I struggle. Why?

Well, I could tell you it’s because of the page turn. That could be part of it. I’m not turning soon enough. I could also tell you it’s because this nice flowing piece of music, beginning with that last quarter note of the measure, suddenly moves. And I could tell you that I’m not being diligent about counting my rests, so I’m not hitting the quarter note with anything that could be mistaken for confidence. It could be that I’m still feeling “new” to the piece, and the movement of the next page still catches me off guard. I could tell you that I’m not breathing when I should. All of these things, I suppose, are true; but none of them (individually or together) are the reason I struggle with this measure.

And I realized that quite clearly last night when I did everything right–the counting, the breathing, the page turn, the expectation of the next page. I had it, folks. I was there, I was ready, and still–I missed it. How did I miss it?

I know I wasn’t the only one because Floyd stopped us and made us do it again. And as I sat there, wondering how in the world I was going to conquer this measure–this stupid little measure that was half silence–I had a brilliant idea. “Stop trying to figure it out,” I said to myself, “and just watch Floyd.”

The amazing part about it is that even as I forced myself to not look at the music, to turn the page a measure earlier than normal and fix my eyes on Floyd, I have to confess to you that there was an enormous part of me that didn’t expect anything to happen. I’m embarrassed to tell you that it surprised me when Floyd gave me my breath, and my cue, and by gosh, if he wasn’t movin’ to the rhythm of the page turn in expectation of what we were barrelling into!

It shocked me.

It shouldn’t have.

Poor Floyd, who tells us week after week, “Watch me.” Poor, poor Floyd. Hahaha.

I just had to laugh at myself. Of course the answer is to watch my director. What’s really amazing is that I knew it all along. I pride myself in watching Floyd, in paying attention when he’s talking, in following his lead. But me, in my pride, in my folly…do I trust him when I am faced with something I am struggling with that I shouldn’t be struggling with? Nope; I decide I’m going to conquer it alone, rather than trust the man at the front of the room who really knows where we’re going.

It reminded me of the verse in Hebrews that tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. How often do we try to conquer situations and emotions on our own? Even when we have all the particulars analyzed and figured out, even after we’ve counted every beat of silence, we blunder; we step without confidence; we don’t anticipate the page turn. Christ knows exactly where He’s leading each one of us, and if we could but turn our face toward Him and trust Him to lead us, we would excel through the most difficult situations.

“Then let all the living, then let all the living join with the angels’ shouts of thanksgiving, thanksgiving.”

God bless you this week as you learn to fix your eyes on Christ.

Pax Christi.
Sarah

I Make No Promises

I apologize. I would be lying if I said that time “got away from me.” I knew very well that I needed to blog. For weeks, I’ve been thinking about it, but I’ve been unable to commit to it. For allowing a month to pass since our last encounter, I apologize.

As I begin this blog, I am waiting on the arrival of my brother’s family for the Easter weekend. I also seem to be having trouble with my “s” and “g” keys. So…I make no promises about the spelling of words containing those two letters, or about the length of this post.

I haven’t much to report, anyway.

Choir is still wonderful.

Work is still a great fit for me.

Writing is still important.

Piano is still therapeutic.

I’m doing alright, yanno? I can’t complain. God has blessed me so richly. I’m considering a lot of big topics right now, and I can’t even begin to address them, so I’ll just list a few of them: Adoption, Theology of Music, Letter Writing, Affirmation, New Dog.

Believe me, these are ginormous topics. I covet your prayers as I tackle them one by one.

And…that, folks, is it. Just a brief update.

Easter blessings to all of you!

Micah

It’s all about perspective.

These four words have become one of the Great Lessons of my life. It seems simple. It seems hokey. It seems almost flippant. Unfortunately, I have come to believe in the truth of this statement quite desperately. It comes, I suppose, from years of observing the Great Lakes Freighters on Lake Superior. It can be difficult to tell where a Freighter is in relation to, say, the dock, or the breakwater, or another Freighter. You may drive along the highway and see her as long as a Summer Day, but turn down Lakeshore Boulevard and be staring at her face-on. It’s about perspective.

I’ve tried to apply this to my life and to situations that stump me, but honestly–that’s when the words seem flippant. When you’re struggling through loss or hurt or frustration, hearing, “It’s all about perspective” is seldom comforting. It’s usually annoying, if you want the truth.

Annoying, but no less true.

Sometimes it takes years to see a situation from a different perspective. Sometimes it takes an enormous amount of willpower to see things differently. As true as I find it, it is none too simple. I struggle with this daily, seeking not just a new perspective but a God-perspective on life and the world around me. I am not too proud to tell you that I fail more often than not.

But last night, in a mustard-seed attempt at changing my perspective on a ridiculous situation I’ve been feeling suffocated with recently, I threw my head into my hands and whispered, “God, what are You doing with me here?”

I woke this morning to this song we used to sing at the Tab, Micah 6:8. Though I love this passage and think of it regularly, I haven’t thought of the song in years. It’s been on my heart all day. It’s a simple song, a simple verse, a simple (and excellent) answer:

What does the Lord require of thee?
But to do justly,
And to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with thy God.

So here I am, in the midst of circumstances that I cannot change, and the answer is (as always) to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God. That’s the answer. That’s always the answer.

We mistake the world around us, I think. We assume that everything that happens in our lives is about us, is about our happiness, is about our desires being fulfilled, is about our contentment, is about our success. Guess what? It’s not about us. Not like that, anyway. If it’s about you and me in any regard, it is simply this: That we are the Body of Christ, His hands and feet to a broken and confused generation that desperately needs Him; that we are being made into His likeness. Rich Mullins (I think) once rote about love–how we mistake love as something that we do to changes others (i.e.: If I love my enemy, it will convert him); in reality, love is our obedience to Christ, and when we act in love, it is WE who are changed.

Maybe that’s the perspective. God is changing me. I think. I hope. I pray.

May He Micah 6:8 you, too.

Pax Christi,
semmie

Interruptions & Expectations

I have found a quiet niche in the building where I work. Okay, it isn’t always quiet. Folks still shuffle by, the elevator churns up and down, doors creek, pin pads blip, and strangers talk and laugh like old friends. But there in the hallway, under the glass canopy with the warmth from the sunlight upon my face, I can spend my lunch hour in quiet, in thought, in prayer, in reading, and sometimes in frivolous text. I love the silence.

But I would be lying if I said I didn’t also love the interruptions. The hallway is open to the first floor atrium, where the piano waits patiently for anyone who’ll grace her keys. When they do, I am never disappointed. I have heard all the classics on my lunch hours–Bach, Beethoven, Mozart; I have heard that Titanic song, Someday My Prince Will Come, the dungeon theme song from Zelda (NES), and such an incredible variety of music that I cannot help but smile. I love the interruptions!

The other day, I was met with a jazz interruption. I enjoy jazz, but I don’t understand it–not one bit. If there is one type of music I am intimidated by, it’s jazz. It’s so free, so fluid and unpredictable. My mom always tells me that she dislikes jazz because it doesn’t move to the same rhythm as her heartbeat. I always tell her that’s the same reason I like it!

I digress. The pianist was playing this incredible piece of light and frollicking music that reminded me of the flurry of sparrows on a spring morning. A woman working in one of the nearby offices came out and leaned against the railing to watch him, then turned to me with a chuckle. “I wasn’t expecting to see a big, burly man in blue jeans and a Tigers hat playing something so light and airy,” she said.

I’ve been thinking about that all week. I laughed with her, of course, because it was sort of a comical image. But why not? Why shouldn’t a big, burly man in blue jeans and a Tigers hat play jazz? Why shouldn’t he play a light and frivolous song on the piano?

It’s all about our expectations, I suppose. So often, we are so consumed with what we expect that we miss the incredible reality in front of us. We expect life to play out in a manner that fits an easy mold–something we understand, something we can make sense of, something we are comfortable with–but it doesn’t. It never does. God has a way of doing things in the way we least expect. We focus so hard on how things ought to look (so we think), and the truth is–life is not simple and easy. Life is messy and complicated, and not one of us has had an easy go of it. Not one of us has perfectly comprehended what God has had in store for us. Not one of us can say we haven’t wondered what God was doing, why things weren’t going “as planned.”

Maybe we look too often to the gift rather than the Giver. If we could shut our eyes for a moment, forget what we think we want, forget what we think we know, forget what what we expect, forget what we desire, forget what we fear, and just soak in the music and the sunlight, maybe we would realize what an indelible gift each day is.

Pax Christi.
semmie

A World of False Dilemmas

I owe you a blog, friends. And what is on my mind?

I’ve been thinking about false dilemmas. The all-knowing Wikipedia defines a false dilemma as,

a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The options may be a position that is between two extremes (such as when there are shades of grey) or may be completely different alternatives

In my own words, a false dilemma is when two positions are set up as polar opposites, and we are led to believe (whether intentionally or not) that these are the only two options. So…why is this on my mind? I’m not sure. It seems that I am seeing false dichotomies more and more, and in more and more areas of life.

The first time I recognized (that I can recall) a false dichotomy was about ten years ago when I was first becoming enraptured in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It struck me as odd that these two extremes were set against each other, as if God couldn’t somehow both foreoredain our lives and allow us to make free choices. I had always sort of believed both, and so I set myself firmly in a “fencepost position” and have been there ever since. In the meantime, of course, I learned of Molinism–the great fencepost I could sit upon. In that case, there was a false dilemma: Calvinism or Arminianism, with absolutely, positively, undoubtedly no other option. And there was. There is. There are several, in fact.

I have seen false dilemmas more and more over the years, and not only in theological circles (although definitely there, also–it amazes me how we set God’s justice against His mercy, as if the two are mutually exclusive and there is no third option whereby He can be just and merciful [and He is; He must be; if He isn't, He isn't God; mercy loses all meaning without justice; and justice loses all meaning without mercy]).

I am reading a book by Jeremy Begbie that I’ve drooled over and coveted for some time. I am, quite disappointingly, near the end. I have two chapters remaining, which I’m loathe to read because I don’t want to be finished. I have enjoyed this book so much (it reminds me what I am passionate about: not merely music, not merely theology; but how the two relate), but I have noticed that even in the perspective of music and theology, there has been something of a false dichotomy: Either music is something uber-cosmos-related–and thus, very theological–or it is merely artistic–and thus, merely expressive.

I don’t mean to imply that Begbie sets up this dichotomy–he certainly doesn’t. But as I’ve read the stories of composers and theologians that Begbie offers, I’ve become aware of this idea that music is often seen as one or the other.

Tell me it isn’t so in your own church: music is either very theological (ie: traditional hymns, doctrinal) or very expressive (ie: this is how much you love me, Jesus, and this is how much I love you back, choruses). Whether a church engages both types of worship music, there is an underlying assumption that the two are set in oposition to one another.

I have many thoughts to share about Begbie’s book, but this one is heavy on my mind. It seems to me, as with most of the things I accept as true, that there must be a paradox. There must be a coming together of two opposing ideas to offer a third solution. In terms of sacred music, I truly believe there is another option. I truly believe there is something both theological and expressive in music. I’m not sure what to call it.

But recognize it. I do. I recognize it as certainly as I recognize Jenn in a crowd. We go to choir rehearsal every Monday, and we sing these songs rich with the theology of the Lutheran church (oh…did I mention we’re singing Lutheran songs this semester? How happy is this girl? OH yeah!), and I recognize both the eternal and the emotion. They are grafted together in beautiful music.

What do you think? Do you view music (particularly music that pertains to Christianity) as important doctrinally, or emotionally, or both? Or neither? Or…something entirely different? What do you think?

More thoughts on Begbie’s book next week. I hope. Maybe even something of a review. I promise, it will read something like, It was so great! Begbie is so wonderful! I need more books like this! I drooled all over it! Overtones make my heart skip! Who knew Bonhoeffer was a musician? I’m so in love with this topic!!!! Just to give you a preview. ;)

Pax Christi.

Sar

 

The Three Loves of Herman Schmitzer

January 19, 1973.

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. Though he died several years before I was born, he is a man who continues to shape my life, as well as (I know) the lives of all my cousins. In a world where being remembered requires that we be the very best at something, score the most points in a game, make the most money in our field, come up with the newest and bestest fad diet, write the seven-book series that the world is waiting on with held breath (GRRM, this was for you…get writing), having the most “friends” on the f@cebook, etc., ad nauseum, there seems to be less and less legacy; more and more fame.

Legacy is something greater. Legacy changes the way people think, changes the way people behave. Even thirty years after his passing, Herman Schmitzer changes us.

When asked about his teaching career, he was quoted as saying, “The three loves of my life–and in this order–are my religion, my wife, Margaret, and music.”

Herman Schmitzer

I thought of this quote last Monday at our first rehearsal of Choral Society for the semester. We are singing a compilation of Lutheran choral works, which means that two of my own loves are melding into one: my Lutheran faith and music. If you don’t know already, I believe there is a strong connection between theology and music, so to have these two things coming together in a semester of song is really overwhelming for me–overwhelming in a good way.

I wish, more than anything, that he could be in the audience this April as we perform these pieces. He would, I imagine, take such delight in it. I know I will.