Cathedral

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In the spring of 2005 I lived in England. I went to Oxford University because I’m wicked smart and then moved back to California because I was wicked cold. When you’re from the Colonies and you visit Brit’an you want to visit old castles and cathedrals because the oldest thing you have in your town is that burger place with a “D” rating from the health inspector.

So, a bunch of us went on a tour of this cathedral in such-and-such old city. The ceilings were high, the room was damp, the benches were uncomfortable. All-in-all, very different from the auditorium I sit in every Sunday. Our tour guide told us about how they built these things without power tools, and it’s incredible. They would start at one end, let’s say the east end. They would build the whole east side, and then over the next several hundred years (seriously, like 400 years) they would build west. I promise I’m going somewhere with this story.

In this particular cathedral they had a real-real-old organ on the east side, and then a pretty-darn-old organ on the west side. The art on the east side was renaissance-ish, then the art in the middle was classic, then the art on the west was romantic. You could literally see the progression of art, music, and architectural history from within the building. 400 years after breaking ground they put up a wall on the west.

But what if they didn’t? What if they just kept building? After the second organ you might find a piano, then a choir, then a couple guitars, then a drum set. You’d move from wood floors to shag carpet to linoleum, to stadium seating. You’d always be reminded that whatever is in today will be further east in a few years. Nobody would ever look at the guitars and skinny jeans and think, “now we’ve arrived,” because they see that overhead projector next to the Keith Green album and know once upon a time that was cooler than shaved ice.

Church is certainly more than the building it meets in, but I wonder if you spent a dozen generations building something if you’d think twice before your church broke up. There might be some folks who miss the linoleum, but from a young age they knew church isn’t about linoleum – it’s about organs, shag carpet, stained glass, and the plasma TV all being in the same room. Maybe if you were so invested in a building you wouldn’t be so tied to it.

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Scales

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A few years ago I heard a pastor say, “you already know what the Bible says – now go do it.” He went on to say that we don’t need to do another study on Romans. We already know what Romans says, so we should go live it out.

That was very compelling to me. It seems to line up with what James and Jesus say, “be doers, not just hearers.” I think I used it as an excuse to step away from studying, memorizing, and actively reading the Bible. After all, I already knew what it said.

I’m listening to a book on tape and the author said that people learn to play the piano differently. Some start with structure, others by listening, some by reading music, others by playing around. With all due respect to this author, he has obviously never learned to play the piano. While it’s true that you learn different things by doing what he said, saying that you don’t like learning music theory or practicing scales is the surest way to limit yourself musically. It’s quite clear when someone knows how to play one song on the piano (which they always seem tempted to sit down and play in social gatherings), but they can’t really play.

After taking 10 or so years of piano lessons, I didn’t need someone to teach me how to play scales or read music. But I still needed to practice. In fact, the better I got the more I needed to practice.

I was at the 2003 Reno Jazz Festival and went to a session by some incredible musicians. The drummer was taking bassoon lessons and the trumpet player was learning ballet, all to improve their craft. One audience member asked they are working on now. That is, when you’re at the top of your game, what is the thing you need to practice the most.

Without hesitation, they each said the same thing, “long tones.” The best musicians in the world were learning new complex things, they were performing at a high level, and yet they knew they had to practice what everyone in the audience thought they had mastered. Every musician there went home that night and practiced long tones, something they probably hadn’t done for months.

It’s true – I do know what the Bible says. Maybe reading the isn’t about new knowledge, but practice. Maybe it isn’t about getting new stuff into my head, but keeping my heart in shape.