Thursday, May 30, 2013

On being outstanding

This morning I read a couple of glowing accolades from a recent memorial service.  They spoke highly of the dearly departed who was an outstanding person in multiple ways.  When I ran across this heretofore unpublished blog entry, I thought it might be a good time to post it.
Last evening following the rehearsal for a wedding I'm playing for this afternoon, someone asked me two questions as one: "Do you give piano lessons and do you do any recording?"

I understood the first part. The answer is no. I've tried. Giving piano lessons is not in my skill set.

I didn't understand the second part. What type of recording? I sometimes make amateur accompaniment tracks for people wanting to practice a song or audition for something. I've never done anything that goes beyond a mic on the piano attached to whatever device is used for such recordings in a given era. There's a reason for that. I'm not that good. I started my piano career far ahead of my peers. I learned my first Bach 2-part invention in early elementary school. When my piano teacher moved away, I continued with independent study -- playing for hours a day out of any music I could find. However, I developed my skills "a mile wide and an inch deep." I can dabble in most types of music from reading "moderately advanced" printed notation to chording along with the latest popular worship song. The problem is that I never perfect anything. I just dabble here and there. I'm "moderately advanced" in a few areas, but not outstanding in any.

My last post was a five-minute special. I cheated on it. It was supposed to be done without editing. It turns out "without editing" is not an option for me. My backspace key gets a lot of compulsive use as I type. That's why I have so little to show for my five minutes. But even with compulsive editing, my writing is not outstanding. Sometimes people tell me it is above average. I have no reason to discount their assessment, but I'm pretty sure it's not outstanding.

I wonder what percentage of the world's population is outstanding in some area. How many can measure up to Robin Williams for ad lib comedy? How many writers of satire can stand in the same class as Samuel Clemens, a.k.a., Mark Twain? How many cellists have skills on par with Yo Yo Ma?

I'm sure there are many people who are outstanding in various areas and yet not famous, people who do what they do in outstanding ways who have never had their skills recognized beyond a limited sphere of time and space.  Even in this day of viral YouTube videos which give anyone a potential spot on stage if they can do something people enjoy watching.

There was a time I longed to join the outstanding crowd, to be at the top of the pack.  Now I realize I'm not willing to pay the price. I would rather be part of a team, working together to produce something adequate for the need.  Doing my part, carrying my part of the load, but not standing out as above and beyond the rest of the team.

It turns out the person questioning me has a band.  They need a keyboard player.  But my life is full of lesser things that add up to more when taken all together.  At some point I made the choice to give up being outstanding.  I think I'm all right with that choice.  Even though it means I will likely never make a list of top bloggers of America.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Parable of the Great Banquet -- Luke 14:15-24

DIY Photo:  Today's photo is of a maze.  Since it's a do-it-yourself photo, you may select whatever type of maze pleases you.  Maybe one from a pencil game book.  Or maybe one for mice.  Or one made of shrubbery and intended for meditation.  Or a midwest fall "corn maze".  Or a game with a marble to roll around.  So many possibilities, why should I choose for you?  As always, thank you for handling this part of the blog on your own.
Sometimes I think myself into a maze -- twists and turns and dead ends impeding my process.  I worry I won't be able to find my way out the other side.  That happened this week.

The setting was a small group Bible study.  We were looking at Jesus' parable of the great banquet in Luke 14.  Someone noted that poor and crippled and blind and lame people were seen as sinners in those days.  Their infirmities were evidence that God was punishing them.  The message of the parable is that God invites sinners to be saved and enter His kingdom.

The difference between that view and the one emerging in my own mind was too subtle to explain well to the group.  Maybe I can get a better grasp on it here.

When the original invited guests were too preoccupied to attend the banquet, the master looked around for other guests.  The ones who agreed to attend were the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.  They were well-pleased to accept the invitation.  "Sure, we would love to come!  When and where?"

As my friend noted, Jesus' listeners would have seen these people as sinners, rebels against the Master of the Banquet.  The difference between us has to do with the truth behind that perception.

In my friend's view, the listeners saw the invitation going out to rebels who then set aside their rebellion and accepted the invitation.  They repented of the sin evidenced by their "punishment" and entered the hall, even while still broken by that punishment.  It's a message of grace and redemption.  Former rebels have been wooed back into relationship with the Master of the Banquet.  They still bear the results of their former rebellion, but they are now welcome at the banquet.

In contrast, subtle as it is, I deem it important to note that Jesus' listeners were mistaken in their assessment.  Being poor, crippled, blind, or lame is not a sign someone is a rebel.  However, those infirmities label them as rebels in the view of Jesus' listeners.  The point of the parable is that we are often wrong about which people are likely guests at the banquet.  People we're certain are not Christians and will never be given admission to heaven apart from repenting of their sins and beginning a new life that looks more like ours may actually be in a better position to attend the banquet than we are.  While we are too busy doing worthwhile things to show up, the broken people around us may be closer to the heart of God than we are.

I think I'm moving away from the former interpretation and toward the latter because of my interactions with poor people.  I often find them to be more generous, more accepting, less self-focused, less judgmental than my middle-class church friends.  In many ways, they have much to teach me about kingdom living, even though they seldom darken the door of a church and have never studied Luke 14.  They haven't claimed their kingdom citizenship yet, but they aren't in rebellion, just a bit unsure if they can come up with the entrance fee.  When the invitation arrives, their response will be, "Sure, we'll come.  When and where?"

Recently, I have seen the stark contrast between the worst of professing Christians looking out for their own interests and the best of unchurched "sinners" stepping aside rather than demanding their rights.  When I look at the parable of the great banquet, I see the gates of the kingdom swinging open to the latter group.  And I hope to find my way in with them.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I like my own writing

Today's DIY photo:   spiral notebook with a hand holding a pen poised over fresh white lined paper.  (Got it?  I do appreciate your contribution in this area, dear reader.)

I was chatting with my daughter this morning, the one who blogs over here.  We were talking about blogs and research papers and writing and I commented that I enjoy returning to what I've written in the past.  Even when I don't remember writing it and can't fill in any gaps that didn't make it from mind swirls into words, I still enjoy reading it.  Is that a good thing?  Would I like it even better if I invested in some schooling on the art of writing and allowed an instructor to hone my skills?  What does it say about the development of my skills if I can go back eons in time to the beginning of this blog -- AKA eight years -- and find pleasure in reviewing my own words from that less mature time of life.

I once read a book that had been republished a decade or two or three after it was written.  In the introduction, the author said the publisher had offered him a chance to revise and update it.  He read it through and decided he liked it as it was, that other than using fewer commas he wouldn't change a thing.  And he didn't.  Even the excessive commas were left in.  As I read it I understood why the publisher had given him a chance to revise it and thought he would have been ahead of the game to take that chance.

I am reminded of that book when I find such pleasure in words written by my own hand in times past.  Apparently, I'm not making much progress with my writing skills.

Here's an example of my early blogging -- on writing.  I did do one tiny edit.  I have gradually noticed an overuse of "that" in my writing and deleted one instance.  Any suggestions as to further edits?  It's nice that blogger posts are forever editable.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Queue

When I think about the idea of blogging regularly (daily or weekly), I see a need for planning -- having posts "on deck" in various stages of preparation; having a plan, a schedule; working ahead.

Or maybe I simply need to sit and type for a few minutes on a regular basis and allow some of the thoughts swirling in my head to make their way out.  It would be easier, however, if those thoughts never involved the private lives of other people.  Do I simply eliminate any references to the people who shape my days?  Do I blur their faces in my verbal photos of them?

Insert photo here.  (One thing I need to do is enroll you, the reader, to do your own photography.  It will save me so much time.  I am too lazy/busy/preoccupied to find photos to accompany my thoughts the way the best bloggers do.  The photos I need already exist in your head, anyway. You just need to pull them up.  You can help me out right now by reviewing a video from your memory banks of an interview with an unidentified person whose face is blurred and whose voice is electronically disguised.  See how that's even better than the photo I would have included?  Thanks for playing along today.)

My daughter has resurrected her blog here.  Seeing her actively writing is inspiring to me.  Maybe I'll start ...  Well, we'll see.  Maybe it will be another four months before my next post.  I wonder what the minimum frequency is for being an active blogger.

Related post:  The Problem with Blogs