Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Most Excellent Way

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:14 (New International Version)
In the Beginning...
When I was nineteen, I became a Christian.

I had grown up in the church. My mom's family were Southern Baptists. Her mom played the organ, her dad led the singing and from the age of four, my mom had sung before the congregation and even on the radio.

My dad's dad was a Lutheran minister who traveled the world starting Finnish speaking churches among Finns who scattered everywhere from Africa to Minnesota.

I had been baptized as a baby and confirmed at twelve. I'd sung in the choir, played for services, and attended church several times a week pretty much my entire life.

And then, at nineteen, I became a Christian.

We're Not in Kansas, Err, Illinois
I'd just started music school at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As a suburban boy from Wheaton, Illinois, living in the dorm at Berklee was, well, different. I shared an 8x10 room with bunkbeds and a solitary window opening onto the alley with a 280lb trombone player who sweated constantly, consumed sardines late at night, and was not a fan showers. I got to learn that the difference between rats and mice (other than the one growing as large as cats) is what happens when you walk into the room and turn on the lights; mice run away.

The spring before coming to Berklee, I'd decided that, as a composer, I ought to learn to play piano. So, I declared piano as my principle instrument and began learning to play. To ensure that I didn't retreat to my saxophone, I'd left it back in Wheaton. (In fact, I'd left pretty much everything back in Wheaton.) Needless to say, I was the only musician at Berklee who'd only been playing his primary instrument for less than six months. Having tested into all advanced courses among players who were monsters on their instruments, humiliation doesn't begin to describe my experience when it was time put down the pencils and actually play something.

Salvation
One day, as I walked up Mass Ave passing through Central Square, I ran into a high school friend from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Rick had played bass with me in various rock bands in high school and was studying math at MIT. I hadn't known he was in Cambridge. We started talking and Rick invited me over to his house, a rundown Victorian mansion on Inman street just behind the Cambridge City Hall.

Rick shared the house with eight other people, all of whom played music and most of whom were studying at MIT. There were musical instruments in every room including two drum sets, three pianos, amplifiers, guitars, you name it. Rick told me that one of the guys had just moved out and that they were looking for someone to take his room. It had no heat, but it had a grate in the floor that let warm air pass up from the kitchen.

I ran all the way back to Berklee, packed up my stuff, hailed a cab and was back at Rick's place in just a couple of hours. Fortunately it was trash night. Rick and I walked up and down the streets of Central Square until we found a discarded mattress by the curb. We discovered a couple of boxes of old rug samples that became a patch-quilt floor covering. Rick came up with some milk crates to that became a makeshift bureau. I was home.

Central Square
Living in Central Square at that time was also not exactly like living in Wheaton. With the highest crime rate in the city and a house full of musical instruments, bicycles and student stuff, we would get burgled. I learned that, if you're waiting for the bus late at night, you really don't want to accept a ride from the drivers who cruise up and down with their passenger-side windows rolled down. I became a fan of walking really, really fast when going from point-A to point-B.

My girlfriend Rene (who would just a couple of years later become my wife Rene) was still in Illinois at Illinois State University. Some friends at school had taken her to an Assemblies of God church and she'd loved it. She started writing me about her experiences. When we talked on the phone (our phone bills were about twice my rent), she was much happier and more positive than I'd ever experienced her. She talked about singing and spiritual gifts. She encouraged me to find an Assemblies of God church.

One Saturday night, after a particularly strong round of encouragement, I decided that I'd give it a try. At that point, I'd not found a church in Cambridge that felt like home to me, and I didn't expect to find an Assemblies of God church anywhere near the east coast. I got out the phone book, and low and behold, just two blocks from Rick's house on Inman Street was a fledgling Assemblies of God church that congregated on Sunday afternoons in the back of the Congregational church on Prospect Street.

Hmm... providence? chance? divine intervention?

Tongues of Men and Angels
I've written before about my first experience at Cambridge Christian Center: a big open room with folding chairs arranged into concentric circles; a capella singing with harmony upon harmony; people speaking out in prophecy and tongues. It didn't fit into the framework of my Mid-western Methodical Southern Fried Baptistic Lutheranism; it was like walking among the angels.

The church became my home. I went to services every Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night. I started hanging out with others from the congregation. I participated in bible studies. I abandoned the practice rooms of Berklee for the solitude of the unheated sanctuary and a little upright piano, spending hours and hours playing scales and arpeggios while feeling the presence of God. I played music in the street ministry. I got baptized and felt truly born again.

One night, out of the midst of a deep sleep, I found myself sitting upright on my recycled mattress speaking in a language I'd never heard. It was more gibberish than it was a language, but it had patterns and cycles that felt linguistic to me. I felt this deep well of emotion open in my chest as though the very spirit of God were flooding me and spilling down into my core and filling me up. My words don't adequately express the experience, but I'd never be the same again.

I'd been completely enveloped in love.

Paradise Lost
As time went on, I became an avid student of the Bible studying and comparing multiple versions to gain greater clarity and understanding. I began composing contemporary sacred music and writing scores for church orchestras. I joined rock bands that would take the words of Jesus into the bars and clubs.

I also discovered that, as with anything that relies on people and money to exist, the church had it share of politics and less than desirable business practices. My skills, energy and passion were readily embraced by the leaders and I became part of the machinery. And something flipped.

Slowly and subtly, the mission of the church... of saving souls... of expanding the congregation.. of constructing a new building... of finding recognition and acceptance in the community... the mission began displacing love.

Instead of love, I began to experience a sense of mission and purpose... goals and objectives... self-righteousness and justification... I'd lost my way.

The Most Excellent Way
Years later I left the church. I am no longer a Christian. I have studied myself and humans generally, and I've come to what I believe is a deeper sense of who I am, what I experience, and why I experience it.

So much has changed. Yet my experience of love and my sense of love being our highest calling is still what it was when I was nineteen.

Happy Tuesday. Go out there and flood your world with love!

Teflon

8 comments:

  1. BW, thank you! It's a great source of joy and delight just knowing you're out there. Teflon

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  2. "Yet my experience of love and my sense of love being our highest calling is still what it was when I was nineteen."

    That is so precious, Teflon; you are a true treasure.
    sree

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  3. Thanks, Mark. That quote is always very grounding for me and I came to the blog looking for a grounding stimulus. Just what the doctor ordered.

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  4. Faith and love. What a great combination.

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  5. I have re-read this blog a few times today and yesterday, each time finding some new and intersting inspiration (thank you, Tef). This time I realised how I keep holding on to calling myself a christian, even when I have major disagreement about how to interpret the bibel, even when I spend more time studying Buddha than stydieng Jesus.

    Thoughtfully, Joy

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  6. So Joy, are you then a Buddhist?

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  7. No I'm a christian, lutherian, who does not always agree with the way other people interprete the bibel.

    I like the buddhistic way of investigating the mind. But they do not have a god. If I distrust my self I change it by closing my eyes and feeling the present of the holy spirit.

    I don't believe in reincarnation - and I also don't believe that you have to die in order to find heaven. I believe that heaven is on earth: heaven is a walk with god.

    Joy

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