Placing Scriptures and Praying for “Phillips:” an Exhortation for the Oxford Gideons “Rally Day”

Early this morning (28 April 2019) Gideons from throughout our region gathered at First Baptist Church of Oxford. The occasion was this year’s “Rally Day,” a day on which Gideon speakers visit numerous churches in an area in order to speak about the Gideon ministry and to raise funds to purchase scriptures for distribution. While I normally speak in a church on these occasions, today I was instead asked to provide a word of exhortation to those assigned to speak. The following is the text of that talk.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:26-40)

While attending Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, an unbelieving student noticed a Gideon giving away little green New Testaments to students entering the cafeteria. Relieved that the man did not stop him and try to share the Gospel with him right then, the student took the Bible out of politeness, never really intending to read it. He threw it onto the shelf of his dorm room, and didn’t look at it again until the end of the semester.

After final exams, the young man had to wait a week for his parents to pick him up and take him home, and he found himself with nothing to do. He found that New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs while cleaning his room and, without something better to do, he began to read in Psalm 62: Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from Him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. He didn’t understand those words at first, but providentially he found a commentary on Psalms and Proverbs in a pile of unwanted books in the dorm basement. Armed with extra help, he began to study that Gideon Bible some more, and the Lord began to open his mind and heart to the Gospel. After returning home, he went to a church where he heard the Gospel preached, and gave his heart to Christ. He later served God as a minister, and as a Navy chaplain.

I’m sure we’ve all read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch a number of times, and I’ll bet that at different times various aspects of the story jumped out at us. Maybe it was the miraculous way in which Philip was instructed to attend this divine appointment, and then the even more miraculous way that he was carried away. Maybe it is the way that Philip used Isaiah 53—a very directly messianic passage in Isaiah—as a starting point from which to preach Christ crucified to the man. As a former Baptist-turned-Presbyterian I’ve even read a number of interesting arguments from various perspectives about what it means that Philip and the eunuch “went down into the water.” Of course, the most important thing is that this man confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, and indeed a Christian church has existed in Ethiopia practically since the time this man returned home.

But for our purposes this morning what I want to point out is that, in God’s providence, this man’s conversion began with him reading the Bible himself. There aren’t too many examples of what we would call personal Bible study recorded in the Scriptures, given how difficult to produce and expensive to obtain those documents were at the time, so it is especially remarkable that Luke, under the Spirit’s direction, records for us a conversion story that begins in precisely this way. Let me share another testimony with you.

This is the story of a girl raised in a family of avowed atheists. These were loving, hospitable people, yet they were openly hostile to the Bible and to the Gospel. Still, her curiosity piqued, this girl “stole” a Gideon hotel Bible while on a family trip. Inexplicably drawn to the Book, she read in her bedroom at night, hoping her family would not find out. After leaving home for college she met a Christian girl in her dorm that explained the meaning of the stories she had read in that Gideon Bible, and as a result she was saved. In process of time, and after much prayer, most of her remaining family members also came to saving faith. Her mother, however, was stubborn and resistant, not even allowing the Bible or God to be discussed in her presence. She softened, though, when she was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One afternoon, the woman that had “stolen” a red Gideon hotel Bible years before found that same Bible in her mother’s house, and used it to lead her mother to Jesus Christ. In this case, a single five-dollar copy of God’s Word was used by God to bring about the salvation of an entire family.

I chose to include these two testimonies with the discussion of Acts 8 this morning because all of the stories take a similar shape. First we have a person reading the Bible on his or her own—perhaps for reasons the person doesn’t yet understand—and having the beginnings of spiritual life stirred within. We know from Scripture that even this is from God working upon their souls—in John 6:44 Jesus himself says

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)

And yet none of these individuals were brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ from reading alone. While this sometimes happens and we are thankful for this, more often it is through Christian witness and especially the preaching ministry of the church that the Holy Spirit brings those awakened through reading the scriptures to the place that they understand, repent, and believe the gospel. This ought not to surprise us either—Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

The scriptures are impossible to fully understand and believe without the Spirit’s enabling, and thus faithful preaching and Christian witness by those already so enabled are most often needed to bring people to repentance and faith.

So what we have in these three accounts—one scriptural and the others selected from among thousands of Gideon testimonies—is a person reading the Word, coming to some spiritual understanding on his or her own, and finally coming to saving faith when Christians come alongside them and lead them to Christ.

So what are we as Gideons to do? Three things.

1. Pray. We must pray for both opportunity and ability to distribute scriptures, and then pray that God would use those scriptures to save sinners. From beginning to end we are dependent upon God to provide funds and opportunity to do this work, to provide “Philips” to those who read the scriptures so that they can understand and respond, and then finally to bring people to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. In Acts 16 we read of Lydia’s response to Paul’s preaching with these words:

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14b)

Saving souls is God’s work, not ours, and it is a work in which he delights. It is our privilege to have a small part in that work, and that part begins with our praying for every aspect of this ministry, and especially for the salvation of men, women, boys, and girls around the world.

2. “Sow Seeds.” I often speak of the Gideon ministry with reference to the Parable of the Sower, speaking of these Bibles and Testaments as seeds that we are scattering everywhere we can, and once again praying that God would bring forth a great harvest. Sometimes we get the opportunity to “water those seeds” also through a word of witness or inviting a person to church, sometimes not. Either way, again, it is God who gives the growth, just as Paul said to the church at Corinth,

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

I suppose that brings us back to prayer again, since we pray for faithfulness and opportunity in planting and watering, and just like a farmer we depend upon God to provide the harvest.

3. Encourage One Another. Finally, we are to encourage one another, or to use “Gideon-speak,” we are to associate together for service. The author to the Hebrews wrote this in Chapter 10:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

This text is most often used to exhort people to regular church attendance and participation, and rightly so, but the idea applies to us as Gideons also. As much as it rubs against my introvert tendencies, God does not intend for his people to be isolated. He intends for us to work together, pray together, encourage each other, admonish each other, and to seek one another’s material and spiritual well-being. We need this; it is how God made us.

That has been my aim this morning, men. To “stir us up.” The task you have before you today seems simple. Very likely you’ll stand in a particular pulpit for the first and last time, and deliver a message you might have given in almost this exact form dozens of times to people you probably don’t know and might never see again. It would be easy to go through the motions in your own strength, rely solely on your oratorical skills and persuasive demeanor, and achieve a predictable result. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve done that before and I’ll wager that most of you have, too. I’m asking you not to do that.

Instead, I’m asking you to pray that both you and the congregations that you will visit will be “stirred up.” After all, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus a part of the “one anothers” we read about in Hebrews. Pray that they will get a small part of the vision that you have for placing scriptures into as many hands as possible, that they will contribute financially to that effort, and that qualified men and their wives will consider joining with us in membership. Most of all, pray and exhort them to pray that God will use the scriptures placed as a result of your speaking today to draw men, women, boys, and girls to himself in repentance and faith.

And even though we’re not supposed to preach, find some way to give them the Gospel as you speak. Tell them Jesus Christ saves sinners, that he lived, died, and rose again for us. Tell them that salvation is free and open to all who will come. We serve a gracious God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rejoices over even one sinner who repents. Maybe God will be pleased to save someone even today.

Giving Gideon New Testament

Posted in Bible, Evangelism, The Gideons International, Theology

Toward a More “Evolved” Right Hand Position on Trombone

Despite its many benefits for intonation, elegance (in accomplished hands, at least), and vaudeville effects, the trombone’s handslide presents technical difficulties for young players unlike those encountered by players of other wind instruments. While hard work is required to master slide technique, the difficulty of this is lessened considerably when trombonists use a right hand position that facilitates efficient movement. In my article “Demystifying Trombone Legato: A Simple Approach,” published in School Band and Orchestra Magazine in 2016, I wrote the following regarding the right hand position:

While there are a variety of hand positions advocated by professional trombonists, whatever hand position is used should allow the player to use all of the joints of the fingers, wrist, elbow, and shoulder in order to move the slide, making finer adjustments with the smaller joints, and larger adjustments with the larger ones. This helps to prevent jerky motions that often take place when the elbow and shoulder have a dominant role in slide movement, and also enables better tuning.

 I took a more specific approach in my 2014 book The Low Brass Player’s Guide to Doubling, where, in a chapter coauthored by University of North Florida professor Marc Dickman, we wrote the following:

Figure 8.2 Trombone Right Hand PositionThe handslide should be held with the tips of the first and second fingers and thumb of the right hand, with the third and fourth fingers extended, so the entire hand is able to move together without unnecessary tension. (See photo.) Strive to use all of the joints of the fingers, hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder in tandem so that slide motion is quick, efficient, and fluid.

It is very important to hold the handslide using the fingertips rather than closer to the hand (the jointed knuckle area). Holding the handslide correctly makes the smaller joints of the fingers available for fine intonation adjustments, a task for which these joints are far better suited than the elbow or even the wrist. This also promotes a gentle slide action in which gravity and inertia do much of the work, rather than a more muscular approach which is inefficient and can cause both intonation difficulties and slide alignment problems.

While I am unwilling to contend that the hand position I use and advocate is the only one that works, problems ensue when the hand position is allowed to “devolve” into one where the slide brace is held closer to the hand. When that happens one loses the ability to use the joints of the fingers to make finer slide movements, and is left trying to make sometimes very small and delicate movements with the elbow and shoulder, which are ill-equipped for the task. I have been fond of comparing this to using a sledgehammer to drive small nails for hanging pictures on a wall. This is theoretically possible, but you are more likely to find yourself patching drywall!

In the past few weeks I’ve taken to using another humorous comparison, referring to the Evolution of Man charts that we all remember from high school science textbooks. For whatever reason, the incorrect hand positions to which I am referring remind me of the drawings two or three steps back from Man in his current condition—or perhaps forward to the additional figure seen in the humorous comic below. Either way, for the sake of good intonation and efficient technique, let’s all make sure that we operate the handslide in the most “evolved” manner possible!


Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Contrabass Trombone, Marc Dickman, Music, Music Education, Pedagogy, Playing Fundamentals, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone

Want to Succeed? Try Doing What the Teacher Says!

This fall I will begin my nineteenth year teaching applied low brass lessons at the university level. Having begun as a wide-eyed twenty-two-year-old graduate assistant, I was in those early years eager to embark on my teaching career, terrified of failure to help students, and ready to deploy all of the pedagogical tools at my disposal to help students with their difficulties in performance. Students with both an appreciable level of “natural talent” and a strong work ethic were and are easy to teach, and even less talented but hardworking students present few difficulties. But the unmotivated, regardless of innate ability level, were for me then a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

As a young teacher, my tendency when a student came to a lesson having made little progress from the previous week was to immediately conclude that some deficiency in my teaching was to blame for the student’s lack of improvement. I would then make an extraordinary mental effort to devise new ways to explain, practice, and execute the assigned material in the hopes of spurring student success. To be sure, this practice led to a number of improvements in my teaching, as through study and experimentation I developed new understandings, new explanations, and new exercises to help struggling students. Nevertheless, after several years of exasperation it occurred to me that at least some of the time the fault was not with my teaching but rather with the student’s failure to put into practice the instructions I had already given.

I’m reminded of a satirical piece from several years ago entitled “Student Has Amazing Breakthrough by Doing What Teacher Says.” In that fictional account, violinist John Man struggled for years with little progress until discovering this long-hidden recipe for success. Here’s a short excerpt:

“I tried just playing the way I want over and over and over again, hoping that it would get better,” he said. “It never did! It was like, the more I played it the same way the more it would sound the same. What could I do?”

Finally, out of sheer desperation, Man started doing what his teacher had been telling him to do in every lesson for the past five years. “The results have been incredible!” said Man. “It’s as if following the advice of an older, more experienced musician allows me to somehow cultivate effective working habits better than my own.”

This fictional account has been replicated by numerous students who have come through my studio over the years, and I’ll confess to experiencing a delightful satisfaction when a student comes to a lesson playing exponentially better than the week before, and then finally says something like “I started doing [insert instruction here] like you said and it worked.” Of course, sometimes the fault for a student’s lack of success really does lie in my teaching, and I am always looking for better ways to motivate, teach, and correct young brass players. But if a struggling student has yet to at least try the suggestions I’ve already made, my usual direction is “Go to the practice room and do what I’ve already told you. If it doesn’t work, then I’ll come up with something new.”

The ones that finally try it often end up with “amazing breakthroughs” of their own.


Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Education, Euphonium, Higher Education, Music, Music Education, Pedagogy, Practicing, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba

Changing My Tune (sorry…) on Church Choirs

A few months ago my family and I began attending a different church in our community from the one of which we have been members for several years. The reasons for that are not the topic of this article, nor do I plan to discuss them in this space other than to say that so far we find the overall culture and particularly the liturgy of the new (to us) congregation to be more suitable. One big difference, which you might be surprised to learn did not influence our decision to visit and begin attending this church, was that it has a choir that sings one or two Sundays per month. Although we had intended to visit quietly for several weeks or even months without actively participating, the choir director also happens to be our son’s violin teacher, and we quickly found ourselves “drafted” into membership. This has been a delightful experience that has both confirmed and furthered changes in my thinking on church music that I have been processing for a while.

You see, prior to our attending this church we had not been members of a congregation that had a choir in over a decade. In most cases the reasons for this had largely to do with size. We spent four years as part of new church plants (yes, more than one, which is itself a long story) and nearly eight in churches whose membership or facilities were not large enough to facilitate regular choral singing. Additionally, after coming to the Reformed faith I had drunk deeply from the writings of staunch Presbyterians of the old school who were suspicious of choirs, instrumental music—pretty much anything other than unaccompanied metrical Psalms. While I never came to the point of embracing that level of austerity (though I enjoy and appreciate singing from the Psalter), between reading these authors and processing my experiences as a sometimes itinerant church musician through that lens I began to think that a greater simplicity in church music was called for. I wanted to see church music dominated by congregational singing—vigorous, quality congregational singing—with somewhat minimal instrumental accompaniment. At no point was I willing to say that churches shouldn’t have choirs, but I had been reasonably happy without them in the smaller churches of which I had been a part.

So what changed? In a way, very little. I still think congregational singing should be the primary musical experience in corporate worship, and I am always on guard against the tendency for church music—of any genre—to overflow its banks, as it were, and turn the worship service into a concert. What has changed, though, is my opinion of the place of choral music in the church’s life, a place that I find myself after all this time once again heartily promoting. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Choirs teach God’s people to sing well. It was perhaps too easy for me, as a classically trained musician with perfect pitch, to take for granted the ability to sing vigorously, in time, and in tune during the worship service, and then in turn to expect everyone else to do the same. And in some cases the choir-less congregations of which we were part, a couple of which had very good congregational singing, had above-average amounts of musical training among their members, as well, training which, incidentally, sometimes had come in prior churches with graded choral music programs. When done well, church choir programs from preschool and children’s programs through adult choirs provide a forum in which members of congregations learn at least something of the fundamentals of tone production and music reading. This necessarily leads not only to fine choral performances, but also to improved congregational singing, both by the choir members themselves and by other congregants who follow their lead.

2. Choirs teach God’s people to sing good things. Like many others of my particular theological and musical stripes, I have lamented the increasing loss of the great hymns of the faith as they seem to be giving way to contemporary selections of often inferior quality. This is not to say that all contemporary hymns and songs are poor, but the typical hymnal contains selections which have encouraged, instructed, and admonished God’s people for centuries, and have been in effect vetted by their continued usefulness over the generations. The tendency to jettison all of this in favor of the new and trendy is shortsighted and hubristic. Children’s choirs in particular are a perfect place to combat this tendency by teaching young people to read and sing using the old hymns and psalm settings. More advanced choral settings of these beloved hymns should form part of adult choirs’ repertoire, as well.

3. God is pleased and glorified by beauty. In Philippians 4 Paul tells us to think on those things that are often summarized as “good, true, and beautiful.” Although I think the argument can be made that New Testament worship ought to be simple, simplicity is not synonymous with ugliness. The God who directs us to sing his praises also delights in his own beauty and in that of the world he created. As we fulfill the command to teach and admonish one another using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we should seek to do so in the most beautiful manner possible. Once again, choirs provide a means to that end.

4. Choirs provide opportunity for fellowship, support, and growth. I read an article recently in which the author described the adult choir as the best “small group” a church can have. At its best, the choir is not only a forum for training singers or enhancing corporate worship. Rather, it is a multigenerational community within the congregation that becomes a place where people are encouraged, admonished, loved, and prayed for. Given the tendency toward atomistic living even among Christians in our society, a forum for greater connection is both welcome and necessary.


Posted in Beauty, Choral Music, Church, Church Choirs, Music and Theology, Music and Worship, Practical Christianity, Worship

Jaw Pain While Playing? Check Your Corners!

My first diagnosed issues with temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD, sometimes called TMJ) occurred in 2007. Anyone who has experienced this knows that determining the cause of this pain and tightness is difficult, as is treating it. For whatever reason, TMJ issues do not constitute a recognized specialty within dentistry, so finding a practitioner with more than minimal study and understanding of these problems can be difficult. If you are looking for someone with such qualifications, organizations like the American Equilibration Society, the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, and the International Academy of Gnathology are good places to start.

Happily, I have had few jaw symptoms for several years. I sleep with a nighttime appliance to prevent clenching and grinding but otherwise do nothing to manage the condition besides occasional stretching. When the symptoms first began, though, I went through a whirlwind of tests, exams, suggestions, and providers. Treatment suggestions ranged from orthodontic treatment (probably career ending for me) to dental reconstruction (also risky and expensive) to conservative treatment with a nighttime appliance. I am thankful to have chosen the third option, and as I have observed developments within the dental community over the past decade regarding TMD treatment the trend seems to be away from aggressive and invasive treatments toward conservative ones. As it turns out, correcting the occlusion or “bite” issues which are often blamed for TMD does not always resolve pain and muscle symptoms. Indeed, despite modern Americans’ reticence to attribute physical symptoms to emotional or psychological issues, stress seems to be the primary trigger of TMD symptoms, regardless of the disposition of one’s dentition or other physical factors. That certainly seems to be the case for me, though I have also observed that sinus pressure from head colds and related illnesses will also cause some TMD pain.

I do not mean to suggest that when I encounter students with TMD symptoms that I suggest only that they “chill out,” though when a student first complains about pain or noise in the jaw I do begin with a suggestion of stress relief. Most of the time this resolves the issue. When symptoms persist I refer him or her to a dentist belonging to one of the three associations listed above. One student in particular who took this advice used an appliance to slightly reposition his jaw for a while and has now been symptom-free for several years. Another suggestion I make has to do with the disposition of the corners of the mouth in the student’s embouchure.

If I had to name as singular fault in my embouchure setup it is that the corners of my mouth are often too loose. How I am able to play well with overly loose corners is not entirely clear to me; I suppose it probably has something to do with the relationship between my teeth and mouth. A couple of years ago, though, I began to notice a correlation between upticks in jaw pain and playing with the corners excessively loose, especially when playing tuba. Purposefully playing with firmer corners resolved the symptoms in short order, so it appears that when the corners of the mouth are too loose the jaw has to bear the extra stress in order to maintain a cohesive embouchure. Not only is this inefficient—it hurts!

If you or one of your brass students experiences jaw pain while playing encourage stress relief first, and refer him or her to a qualified dental provider if symptoms persist. But check the corners of the embouchure, as well. If they are too loose, correcting that problem might both improve playing and relieve pain.

Posted in American Academy of Orofacial Pain, American Equilibration Society, Dentistry, Embouchure, International Academy of Gnathology, Pedagogy, Teaching Low Brass, Temporomandibular Dysfunction

The “Other” IT Crowd

My wife and I watch very little television. We have not had a cable subscription in over ten years, and though we subscribed for a while to one of the newer streaming services which resemble the “basic cable” plans of old, we recently canceled that as well, deciding that watching the occasional sporting event was not worth the monthly subscription price for the entire package. At the moment we have only an Amazon Prime membership, Netflix, and a new service, BritBox. The latter, as the name suggests, offers exclusively British programming, which appealed to us since, for reasons I’m not sure I entirely understand, we have developed a predilection for British shows over the past few years. My wife has watched every available season of The Great British Baking Show multiple times (I keep pulling for young Martha, even knowing that she doesn’t win), and our entire family recently enjoyed the four-episode crime series Maigret, with Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”) delivering a surprising and wonderful portrayal of the title role.

The IT CrowdAnother show that my wife and I have enjoyed watching is The IT Crowd, a sitcom centered upon two IT workers, Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd), and their computer-ignorant manager Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), all employed by the fictional company Reynholm Industries. Like many British comedies, The IT Crowd is sometimes relatively clean but at other times surprisingly vulgar and even purposefully offensive. I’ll therefore not recommend it without serious reservations, and for a time I wasn’t sure why we found it so entertaining. After a text “conversation” a few weeks ago with a friend who works in IT, I put my finger on some surprising similarities between how IT workers and music teachers relate to their colleagues in other departments as well as their friends and acquaintances outside of their professions. Here are a few of those:

1. Both music teachers and IT workers choose those professions because of unique skillsets.
Although computers are ubiquitous in modern society, it wasn’t that long ago that their frequent use was the domain of a select group of nerds. Those are the guys (and they are mostly but not exclusively men) who ended up learning how to code and became the stereotypical “IT guys.” Likewise, music teachers are those who as young people found meaning and belonging in a particular group of usually-not-part-of-the-in-crowd folks participating in an activity not always considered “cool.” Thus both groups developed skills and ideas that placed them on the fringes of the mainstream at best.

2. Both music teachers and IT workers often feel that others do not understand their work.
Twenty years of conversations that both my wife and I have had with folks in other fields, even other educators, suggest that few outside of our profession really understand what we do all day. I don’t mean that they are intentionally dismissive of our work, but not everyone gets that performances don’t “just happen,” that lessons are not planned “on the fly,” and that quality music instruction requires hours of solitary planning, reading, thinking, practicing, listening, and evaluating on the part of the teacher. Even from my vantage point as an outsider I have observed IT workers similarly frustrated by clients who seem to believe that “computer stuff” will “just work” without notification of staff and consequent planning and setup.

3. Both music teachers and IT workers are often socially awkward.
This has to do, I suppose, with the social self-selection earlier in life to which I alluded earlier. While neither musicians nor “computer folks” have social difficulties among themselves, our unique professional cultures do seem to generate certain awkwardnesses when we mix with others.

4. Both music teachers and IT workers keep bizarre hours.
While music teachers have somewhat more “normal” schedules than full-time performing musicians, even in the teaching profession the need for after-hours rehearsing and performing leads to schedules that don’t always jive with those of our friends in other professions. Church, civic, and social activities organized around the 9-to-5 schedule typical of middle-class Americans don’t always work for us. Likewise, computer issues do not always conform to the predictability of the usual workweek, as both regular and emergency maintenance of always-on computer systems often has to occur after hours, especially when massive software updates need to occur during periods of minimal system demands.

5. Despite these and other problems, both music teachers and IT workers like their jobs.
Every profession has its problems, and the ones I’ve examined today are no different. The old joke, “How do you get a musician to complain? Give him a job!” didn’t emerge out of nowhere, and I know enough folks in IT to have heard my share of grousing from them, as well. And yet, for the most part we like our jobs, despite the social awkwardness and assorted eccentricities that they seem to engender.

Granted, I have here constructed an opinion of a large class of employees based upon their portrayal in a television series, and I am certain that people working in information technology do not constitute such a monolith. Music teachers certainly do not. For my tongue-in-cheek purposes today, though, these comparisons do seem to hold true, as my wife and I, both music teachers, find it very easy to identify with the hardworking, genuine, but often humorously misunderstood Moss and Roy.

Posted in Education, Music Education, Television, The IT Crowd, Work and Leisure

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”

The Mississippi Convention of The Gideons International was held this past weekend in Jackson, and as President of the Oxford Camp I was expected to attend and deliver our camp’s collected offerings at the President’s Breakfast on Saturday morning. I did this but otherwise attended little of the convention; instead my family and I used the opportunity to visit with my wife’s parents, siblings, and niece and nephew, as they live nearby. I had volunteered to speak in a local church on Sunday morning on behalf of the Gideons, but they had more qualified speakers than needed, and I did not receive an assignment. Instead, we attended the early service at First Presbyterian Church, where we heard a sermon by David Strain from Colossians 3:5-11. This was a delightful experience not only because Presbyterian sermons seem somehow more profound and erudite when delivered with a Scottish accent, but also because Dr. Strain addressed a topic I have been pondering for some time. I have thought about writing this post for a while, and now having heard a sermon in which someone more learned than myself reached a similar conclusion, I am a bit more emboldened to opine. My particular interest here is in verse 8:

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

At the risk of sounding too much like the Pharisee from Jesus’ parable, I am thankful that in his mercy God has kept me from falling into what outwardly seem like “big sins.” I’m not a murderer after all, I don’t cheat on my wife or my taxes, I rarely consume alcohol and never to excess, and by most accounts I live an upstanding life. And yet our Lord had little good to say about those who thought much of their good outward appearances, and often exposed the sin that lay at the roots of even their best deeds. Sure, I may have mostly avoided those sins which bring some sort of public opprobrium, but there is plenty of sin inside that needs to be rooted out, confessed, and put to death. One of these, for me, has to do with language.

Readers who know me personally might be surprised by this, as most of the time the “dirtiest” thing about my speech is the poor grammar and syntax that characterize Southern colloquialisms. (Happily, these rarely find their way into my writing, unless I am trying to emulate Mark Twain.) While I conscientiously avoid the foulest of expressions, I have sometimes inserted mild profanities into my speech, occasionally even when teaching, in an attempt to add emphasis, keep attention, or generate a good laugh. I’ve tried to dismiss this as harmless, but after teaching through Colossians last year and considering verse 8 of chapter 3 at length, I’ve concluded that this is not so harmless at all. Not because the language itself is so bad, but because of what it indicates might be lurking underneath the surface.

You see, what I have suspected for some time, and Dr. Strain similarly stated, is that the list of vices in verse 8 is not just a list of sins to put away, but a continuum of sins that spring from the same root. “Obscene talk,” rendered “filthy language” in other versions, is the last and arguably the least serious of these. Slander is worse, likewise malice and wrath or rage. Anger is at the bottom, and an honest self-examination on my part reveals that, deep down, there is indeed some of that. Suppressed anger, sure, of which I was not even consciously aware, but those mild, seemingly harmless profanities that occasionally slip out are like leaks in the willpower that holds anger and other sins deep inside, in addition to being sinful themselves. Clearly I have had more sin to confess than just a few “dirty words,” and I am thankful that we serve a God who delights in forgiving those who come to him in repentance and faith.

I have sometimes said, only partly jokingly, that American evangelicals’ mores regarding language and other issues are “more Victorian than biblical.” I still believe this. After all, scripture has more than a few metaphors and expressions that can offend more refined sensibilities. God himself refers to the spiritual adultery of the Israelites using surprisingly graphic sexual metaphors, and I’m always amused by the Hebrew idiom, reproduced in the King James Version but not more modern translations, referring to males as “any that pisseth against the wall.” In the end, I’m not arguing for a pharisaic and puritanical policing of one’s speech, but rather a heart examination and repentance of the significant sinful thoughts and attitudes that might lie beneath even the mildest of vulgarities that escape our lips. After all, as our Lord said,

…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)

Posted in Bible, Christian Worldview, Colossians, Doctrine, Practical Christianity, Repentance, The Gideons International, Theology