Sunday, April 26, 2009

Take that off!

My pastor was preaching today about putting aside things that belong to the Christian's former nature - who you were before you knew Christ. Some of what he said hit me right in the heart. Like don't be the one who complains about your employer promoting other people because God is big enough to take care of you.


His text was from Colossians 3:6-14. Put aside all anger and malice, wrath, railing, etc. The word the Apostle Paul uses for anger is orge which can be both a predisposition to anger or emotional agitation and wrath.

I have to admit, my previous post about my job sounded pretty much like orge. But I am still sorting this out. Because of an abusive childhood, I do have a lot of anger. I get pissed when I am mistreated. I used to just take it, you know, be a good boy, be a nice guy, take the garbage - and seethe internally.

I don't do that any more. I am coming to learn that anger in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It's like the horn on your car. It's a warning signal that something is wrong - that boundary has been violated, that there's danger in the situation, that worse things can happen if you ignore it.

But I still haven't learned how to be assertive without being angry. "No" was not a word that was allowed in our home - at least not if you were a kid. It didn't matter how you were treated, you couldn't say "that hurt, stop it." And the same went with my older brother's sexual abuse. I couldn't say "no" in the middle of the night when he came into my room to sexually abuse me. If I did, mom might find out, and that would be worse. (She found out later; I told her. And true to form she shamed me about it, so she wasn't safe).

But I'm not a child any more. I'm the grown up now and I can say no and mean it. But I am still learning the difference between setting and maintaining a boundary - how to stand up for myself - and being angry about everything. And I realize that some of the feelings I have are leftovers. Left over from childhood. Left over from the garbage dump. And the anger - like powder in a muzzle loader - might be left over from a previous shot that should have been fired but wasn't. But I'm not crazy - where I work is still a toxic place that mistreats its employees. Don't believe me? as the OPM.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

See, I'm not nuts!

Carlos Santana Santa Clara University I have been attending a series of lectures on Music and the Brain at the Library of Congress in Washington. The subject matter has varied from Ellen Dissanayake's talk on the origins of music to Daniel Levtin's lecture and discussion on The World in Six Songs to the last of the talks on the mind of the artist by Michael Kubovy and Judith Shatin of UVA.

I emerge from these lectures (sponsored by the Dana Foundation) feeling much like I feel when I go snorkeling - I am on the surface, but the real treasure is deeper in the water. I would like to get down into the depths and explore the subject. The more I read about it, the more I am persuaded that there is a power in music beyond just our enjoyment of it, that there is something in our wiring that is affected by music in a way that nothing else touches.

I first got interested in the subject because of my own amateur musicianship. I play guitar, bass, and sometimes keyboard (though not very well) and I have always loved it. My mother told me stories of my bouncing to the Beatles "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" in my crib.

So I knew I had an emotional attachment to music. I wanted to play it, I saw the popularity of musicians, especially good ones, and I wanted that, too. And I loved the feeling of "getting it right" of actually performing in front of people in a way that they appreciated.

I remember the electric feeling when my classmates leaped to their feet and began to cheer when my high school rock group started playing "Sweet Home Alabama." I felt like I had been plugged into a wall.

My classical guitar teacher told me that I had something that many professional musicians did not - I loved it. I did, I do, and I always will.

So learning more about this obsession intrigued me. I started reading Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music . If you have not read this book, it is excellent. It explores the way that music is processed in our brains and gives a good overview of the research into the subject. Then I started reading Music the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain. It was a little bit harder read than Dan Levitin's book, primarily because it was a little more technical. I am currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. It is fascinating, primarily because the stories are real-world testimonies of how Dr. Sacks has experienced the way music effects people.

I would also like to read more about music in religion and about trance music. I started exploring the phenomenon of brain entrainment using binaural beats and light flashes to alter brain wave frequency. But again, I have just flown over the iceberg, I haven't even come close to the tip of it.

As a Christian musician, I want to explore the implications of this research on church music, specifically on worship services. I have noticed many people go into a trance-like state when deeply involved in worship, and I have been involved in such a state myself at times. I have believed that we were all worshiping God, but that can be done without singing or music. So I want to delve into the role that music plays in worship. Does it evoke a response, or is it a tool that helps people respond to God? What about different instruments, their timbre, range, and forcefulness? And what of singing without music? Some traditions follow the church Fathers and don't allow musical instruments in church, so what about them?

I ask these questions because I think they need to be answered. Often times, I don't hear this kind of thinking. Dan Levitin said that singing together causes the release of Oxytocin, the so-called "trust" hormone that causes women to go into labor, and helps mothers bond with their babies. This is released in our bodies when we sing together! So how does that affect what Christians would call "unity" or "fellowship"?

Sadly, when I mention these issues to some on my current worship team, they look at me like "huh?" or like that's interesting now let's get back to playing music.

But I'm not crazy.

I have likened music to Dorothy's ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz. Remember when Dorothy first gets the slippers and the wicked witch wants them? What does Glenda the good witch say? "Stay very tightly inside of them. Their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn't want them so badly."

I think the same is true of music. People who dismiss Carlos Santana (pictured above in a photo from Santa Clara University) as "Cosmic Carlos" and laugh when I mention him should take note - Carlos has started a CHURCH. So maybe he's onto something. Maybe Christians ignore that something to their peril.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A true hero

Like Many people, I was horrified to hear of the shooting rampage in a Carthage, NC retirement home this past week. The man who did it, Robert Stewart, was ultimately stopped when a 25-year-old local policeman shot him the hallway. The officer, Justin Garner, grew up in Carthage and had been a NC highway patrolman at one time before deciding to go back to his home town.

I know many who thank God that he made that decision.

This young man was apparently the only one on duty when the calls started coming in Sunday. He took his pistol and went to the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center. Despite being shot in the leg and foot with shotgun pellets, Garner was able to bring Stewart down with a single shot from his .40 cal Glock pistol.

This young man, an avid hunter and fisherman, is to be commended with the highest award we can give. He truly was willing to lay down his life to save others (as did one of the health care workers). That he did it without being told, because it was just part of his job to do so, shows that the Greatest Generation or 9-11 Firefighters aren't the last heroes.

I don't know if North Carolina plans to honor him; I know the folks in Carthage will probably make sure he doesn't need to think about cooking Sunday dinner for rest of his life. And having gone to high school at Union Pines, just down the road from where this happened, I can tell you the community is tight-knit. Everyone knows nearly everyone else. So Justin will be a hero in the hearts of people there for generations. Good goin' son. Way to get er done!