Tuesday, February 26, 2013

IV. Obedience in the Ordinary

    I am excited to be continuing my obedience series today with a passage from Luke. But before I begin, here are a few things to look forward to in the next few weeks:
  • a new poem on Friday!
  • What I'm learning about the Kodály method and how it's changing my understanding of music pedagogy
  • Pop culture vs. Traditional/Folk Culture and
  • How an understanding of the differences confirms my growing discomfort with the worship style of the evangelical church.

     Obedience in the Ordinary

     "The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness." (Luke 3:3)

     This ordinary verse speaks of much that is extraordinary. Quite plain in its language, the verse simply tells us that the word of God was spoken to John while he was in the wilderness. And yet we know this: that John was already in the wilderness, he was waiting for the word of God. His whole lifeeven his birth!was a preparation for this moment of receiving the word and acting in obedience. God had chosen him from before birth with the task of proclaiming the coming of the Christ, and it is here the proclaiming begins. Yet what strikes me is that John was exactly where he needed to be in the moment that God gave the word. There were many obediences before the one recordedthat of proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was obedient up to that moment, we know, because he was in the wilderness, and he heard. And he obeyed the call upon his life.

     Am I obedient even before the critical moment comes? For each small obedience may be a critical moment, without which the most important of them all shall not come to me. We must be faithful in the small things before we can be faithful in the bigger things.

     It strikes me that this rings true in every part of life. One of the greatest struggles of teaching older beginner students is that they think they ought to be able to skip right to the hard stuff, that they will begin by playing "Fur Elise" or "Moonlight Sonata".  They haven't yet learned that you must be faithful in little before you are entrusted with much. When you faithfully practice the painfully slow process of learning each note on the staff, memorizing the fingering to one octave scales, two octave scales, three octave scales, arpeggios, chord progressions, tonic triads and inversions, and build your way up, then eventually you will be entrusted with those more difficult pieces. Younger students don't expect to start out playing classics, and playing them well. They understand that they will start with easy songs, and it is those songs which were once hard but now are easy which delight them.
     I have a young student who just started in the fall. As part of a goals program I am running this semester, she learned "Mary Had a Little Lamb" by rote, and it is now her favorite song to play. Whenever she comes for a lesson, she sits down and looks at me with a smile. "I know what I want to play first!" she tells me, and I always know what is coming next. Without fail, she always plunks out "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for me at the beginning of every lesson.
       The reward for faithfulness is greater responsibility. But my older students will never reach the "greater responsibility" if they aren't challenged to be faithful in the simple songs. A student of mine who began two years ago, as a sophomore in high school is now among of my most advanced students (most of whom are early-intermediate level). She accomplished a great deal in two years simply because of her dedication to accuracy from the beginning. She was faithful in little, and so I know that she will continue to be faithful as we build her ability. I remember reading a blog post from a fellow music teacher who commented that we ought not to be so eager to move our students on to more complicated pieces too quickly. She understood the need for building that ability and responsibility slowly and steadily. No one decides to take ballet and thinks that they will be on pointe shoes from the beginning. They must build up to the critical moment, increasing in strength, accuracy, and technique. When the moment comes, they will be prepared.

      We have a tendency, when it comes to obedience, to dismiss the smaller things as inconsequential. We forget that they are not isolated events, they are small tests. When we have been faithful in each small and ordinary task, the large obedience will be made without hesitation.  In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers speaks of being exceptional in the ordinary:
“We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.” (10/21)
 May we learn to be people of obedience in the ordinary circumstances of life, waiting in patience for the word of God.

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