The Mean Reds

Today I failed. A lot.

I had a job interview this morning, which was good. As I was heading out the door, I got a phone call from a recruiter I didn’t want to talk to, which distracted me such that I forgot the folder with my resume and directions to the office. That was bad. In the interview, I was all at sixes and sevens, I don’t think I could have really said my name convincingly. Needless to say that company is exploring other options.

I received two email rejections from potential employers and spoke on the phone with two recruiters who were discussing jobs I either don’t want or wouldn’t be able to do.

I found out that some things have changed in my online class and I’m way behind the ball. My textbooks have still have not arrived (though I’m hopeful they’ll be here tomorrow), so I’m a little unsure of what I’m learning about. I am behind on my coursework and I have no idea if I’m doing it right.

I made some poor choices in conversation that left me feeling like I had offended a friend.

So I fail.

I fail at getting a job. I fail at school. I fail at being a good friend.

I even fail at speaking truth to myself. As I write this, I’m supposed to be tearing down the mountain of coursework that I’m so behind on. I’ve told myself God is in control, that he knows the right job and the right degree and the right life for me to have. I’ve told myself everyone fails, and I shouldn’t blow these things out of proportion and I need to just buckle down. But, these facts have no bearing on my emotions whatsoever.

I’m thankful that God never gets to the end of the day amazed at how much he failed. I’m thankful that he never has to look at himself and say “I failed”, not even once. He always does it right the first time.

So, when God made me a little absent minded, easily distracted, and prone to become a bubbling mass of goo when I don’t know what to say, he did it right. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, down to the very things I hate about myself.

This is truth: God made me and chose me knowing I would fail.While I was dead in my sin, he sent his Son to die for my failures (and sin, but we’re focusing on failure today). Today, he continues to be faithful to his promise to me despite my failures. There is no mistake I can make, no dish I can drop, no appointment I can forget that will make God too frustrated to love me today. His mercy and grace have already covered every wrong decision.

Take that mean reds.

I came across this quote while doing some research for a paper, and I thought it was rather beautiful.

Words about music enliven the distance that separates the musical idea from the experience of music like the threads of rain that, in the lines of the haiku, sew sky to earth. When composers who are drawn to express themselves in language as well as in music also devise their verbal texts for vocal compositions, there is a reciprocal effect—as though the rain threads upward as well as down.

~ Austin Clarkson

As difficult as music is to describe, those who describe it well do us all a tremendous service.

On searching

“God is not man’s servant, that a puny atheist may shout a challenge and He is bound to respond. Neither is God a genie, that if man is lucky enough to find the right combination of words, He will suddenly pop out and reveal Himself. God is our Creator, all powerful and dwelling in light unapproachable. He demands reverence. But He is also willing to be Father to such as come to Him by His ordained road, Jesus Christ, and as Father He tenderly stoops to the immaturity of the babe in Christ. This is the only explanation I have to offer for the following facts. God answered prayers which were unworthy even to have been brought before His presence. If I prayed those prayers today, He would not answer them. He responded then, ignoring the selfish vanity of the request, simply because of the honest seeking at the base. He knew I meant it when I said I would give Him my whole life. The Father seeketh such to worship Him – in spirit and in truth [John 4:24]” – Isobel Kuhn, from By Searching

Doubting God is a common problem among us earth-bound people. We, like the Pharisees in Matthew 16, seek some kind of proof that the God who made us and exists transcendentally above time ans space is real. We trust our own reason above God’s Words. Thank God that he “knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:10-17). God wants worshipers, he doesn’t necessarily want “good people”. So when we pray, like Isobel Kuhn did, selfishly asking God to reveal Himself to us puny humans, He will. He says that when we seek him with all of our heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Weary searcher, seek God in His Word. He isn’t hiding from you, I promise. He is still seeking people to be reconciled to Him and enjoy restored relationship with Him.

“The ideal tone…

“The ideal tone, is a mouthful of sound that ‘spins’, remoulds itself for every vowel, is felt at the lips, in the head, presses down the tongue, pushes up the uvula (soft palate), even descends into the chest, in fact fills every nook and cranny.” G.B. Lamperti

A beautiful tone should fill everything I am as a singer, which is one reason I often say I live in my instrument. If there is tension holding back part of that tone, so that it doesn’t fill “every nook and cranny” of me, my tone will not be ideal. Thus, letting the voice be all that it can be requires shifting my mental focus off of the tension and on to letting the tone fill all of me.

“Sing with your mind!” they said…

A great singer has said that all great singers sing with their mind first (Jerome Hines in The Four Voices of Man, if I remember right). McKinney has also said in Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults that singing is 90% mental, that’s what makes imagery such a powerful tool for teaching singing. So, when my voice teacher challenged me to try finding a quiet place and “practicing” my literature mentally, I was eager to try it.

He suggested the mental thing because I’ve been relearning some fundamental things and letting go of some tremendous tension, so I’m not controlling pitch the way I used to, and I’ve been singing pitchily quite a lot. But, when I sing in my mind, I can be perfectly free of tension and perfectly on pitch at once.

Today, I began my mental practice session by aurally imagining a new exercise I’ve been really pitchy and tight on, then the etude I’m learning for my semester exam. I found myself imagining the out-of-tune notes I was singing all last week, so I used the piano to remind myself what the pitches sounded like and imagined them right. Then, I worked on my “How Beautiful Are the Feet” from Messiah. I’ve been struggling to keep the high notes free and in tune with the gentler color I want, and I’ve been dealing with really noisy inhalation (always an indicator of tension) but, I imagined it perfectly with silent breaths and free, shimmering G5’s.

Tonight as I finish a mental and physical practice session, I am much more aware of the power my mind has over my body. I can use my mind to control and manufacture a stiff, tense sound, or I can use my mind to completely let go and let my voice sing itself. Oh, and those high notes in “How Beautiful”? I just let my voice do them freely with all the shimmer it wanted. Smile

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury

Tonight, I read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. I don’t usually read dystopian fiction, it’s usually too depressing. But, I did actually enjoy this one. I read it all in one sitting, which I think deepened the story’s emotional weight for me.

It’s about a man named Montag, a fireman in the future (the future being a hundred years after 1953) who start fires instead of putting them out. He and his comrades burn books and arrest people who read. To the government of this dystopian society, reading people think too much to be safe. Most citizens live for entertainment and spend their free time running away from reality. But one night, Montag becomes curious about these people who read, so he steals a book from a fire. At first, he doesn’t understand it. A former English professor who helps Montag sets his mind right about the power of books thus:

“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

He’s saying books help us makes sense of the world, but only if we’re willing to think about what they say. As Montag starts to think about what he read in his stolen copy of the Bible, he finds the key that sets him free from his entertaining prison. He leaves the city pursued as a criminal and joins a group of people like himself, who started reading and thinking again. They remember the texts of a few books and recite them to each other. These men and women formed the oddest-looking book covers I have ever imagined, and because of their books they were strong enough to face reality.

Reading books isn’t like drinking a magic potion that suddenly makes the world make sense. Books only open mental doors that we must walk through by thinking about what we’ve read. When books become past tense, we stop reading and thinking and start chasing happiness. Like Mr. Bradbury’s characters, we will ignore calamitous realities and entertain ourselves into their graves.

Mr. Bradbury describes a world full of people who don’t read or think or love or live or give anymore. They run and run and run looking for happiness and ignoring pain. Mr. Bradbury reminds us that books help us face and make sense of pain. The Bible, the book Montag found, depicts real life, life through God’s eyes. In light of my knowledge of that Book, I say Mr. Bradbury is right that books are vital to the human experience whether we read or listen to others tell us the stories. Without them, we cease to think, we cease to love, indeed, we cease to be human.

So, thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for the reminder.

Songs of Sojourning

Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts. ~ Psalm 119:54-55

When I think about songs I like to sing on a trip, they’re usually my favorite songs. They’re the ones that my family has heard so often they’re sick of them, and they’re the ones I could sing in my sleep I love them so much, and the ones that just come to mind quickly for no apparent reason.

The psalmist here calls God’s words his songs “in the house of my sojourning.” He loved God’s law so much he could sing it in his sleep, all his friends and relations were tired of hearing it, God’s law was always at the forefront of his mind. How did he develop that untiring love for God’s Word?

In the very next verse, the psalmist describes how often he’s been meditating on scripture. He remembers God’s name in the night, thinking on truth as he falls asleep, and striving to know God’s law so he can keep it. Then he says it’s a blessing to him just to be able to keep God’s law.

He ran God’s word through his mind by meditating on truth and he ran God’s word through his heart by singing truth. If we believers want to have that untiring love for God’s word, having His truth always at the forefront of our minds, we can’t tire of truth. We can’t tire of washing our minds and hearts and voices in scripture. When I am discouraged or tempted to despair or just lonely, God’s word provides all the songs I could ever need for my sojourn.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” ~ Psalm 119:9

“I Have a Confession to Make”


This is a wonderful exposition of Psalm 73 by musician/evangelist Ben Everson. As a Christian musician, comparison is a common temptation for me. I look at secular musicians, and I think, I’m just as good as them, I could do that, I could be the one getting all the accolades and the money.  It’s easy to either forget or downplay the moral and spiritual compromises I would have to make to get there. There are of course some caveats to that, so, read Ben’s article, I found it incredibly encouraging!

God’s Guidance, Then and Now

Numbers 9:17-20 describes the presence of God visualized for the children of Israel in a cloud coming to rest on the tabernacle thusly:

“And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.18 At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. 19 And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not. 20 And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the Lord they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.”

As I considered this passage, my first thought was how lucky the children of Israel were to always know exactly what they were supposed to be doing. They had the tangible presence of God guiding them! I long for something that visual. I long to know that what I’m doing is God’s will, I long to know God’s will for the next steps in my life. I crave tangible answers!

But as I meditated and continued my reading, some other thoughts struck me. First, the Israelites had no idea when they would go or stay. Verse 21 –

21 And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.

They could be roused from their beds at night and told they had to move on with no warning. How much security would that offer?

Second, they never had a guarantee that they would be in any one place for any defined length of time. Verse 22 –

22 Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed.

At this point, I am beginning to think the Israelites were not so lucky. While they always had God’s visible presence with them, they were never sure of where they were going or when or why. They often had to move on quickly, (v. 21) but they also had extended periods of waiting in one place (v. 22). The children of Israel must have struggled with trusting that God knew how he was leading them through the wilderness. Yet, trust was their only recourse. How else could they journey through unfamiliar territory? Every day they knew they were exactly where God wanted them to be because they were there. Though they had no idea where God would take them next, they knew God knew.

So also in my life as I try to plan for the future, trusting God is my only intelligent recourse. I’ve never done life before, so I must trust that he knows what’s best for me. I know that I am where God wants me to be because if he didn’t want me here, he’d have put me somewhere else. I don’t know God’s plan for the rest of my life, but I know that he knows his plan (Jer. 29:11-13;Rom. 8:28-31). Whether I’m busily moving from one thing to the next or I feel as though I’m stuck in a holding pattern, God is in control. God has planned every step of my life for his glory, which is my highest good.

Now, I have an advantage over the children of Israel. All they had was a cloud over the tabernacle and the word of a man. I have all of God’s direct revelation at my fingertips every time I open my Bible. But, God’s guidance is the same for me as it was for them. I must stay near God’s presence, and trust that he not only knows the next step he wants me to take, but he will also reveal the next step to me at the perfect time.