Taking Requests

I began making a podcast yesterday morning when I was in a depressed state. Actually, I’m not supposed to use the word “depressed” in this context (I am told) so as not to confuse my state with that of someone who suffers from Major Depression, which is a serious mental health condition. I’m supposed to say I was “despairing” — and anyway, that’s more accurate.

I disliked the podcast at the end of the day because my despair was interfering with the point I was trying to get across. I was going to just junk it, but when I got up this morning and started listening to it, I actually became jazzed. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, “jazz” is the opposite of “despair.”)

So I’m touching it up a bit. This could take several hours. But when I submit it (at some point today) it will seem as though I think today is Thursday. Please overlook that disparity. Today is Friday (I think.)

I’m ceasing to make much sense, so I’ll close. But first I want to ask if anyone has any requests, and I’ll try to play one of them on the piano. I tried yesterday but couldn’t think of any songs I could particularly get behind. So I’m taking requests.

Uh – please do not request “The Piano Man” by Billy Joel. It’s one of several songs I will refuse to play. You’ll find out what some of the others are as you request them.

All that said, request away.

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Gratitude List 1566

(1) My weekly meeting with Kurt took place yesterday “on the real” for the first time since our mutual vaccinations.  Nice to have the air-conditioned Co-Op where we convened, and nice not to have to concern ourselves with missed connections and outages.

(2) Looks as though the workshop will come to a satisfying conclusion at some point during the next two weeks, which is all the time we have with the new sound person.  Communication has been good, and I’m actually pretty pleased with what’s happening, slow but sure.

(3) Tracy published a piece of mine and expressed gratitude that I was able to turn something in anyway, despite having announced I’d be wrapped up throughout the summer.  I’m thankful for the person who gave me the idea in the first place, by asking “Did Jesus ever doubt?”   Also thankful for the many subsequent pertinent thoughts that have crossed my mind post-publication.  I like it when I get the sense that a certain theme can be expanded.

(4) I have the third session of Cognitive Processing Therapy in about a half hour.  Interesting the similarities between street life and combat, in terms of some of the kinds of trauma reactions.   I like Cathy the therapist and am glad this issue is being addressed.

(5) I want to add that I’m grateful these days for the enhanced time spent outdoors.  It’s great to get out on my bicycle and go riding along the nice shaded pathways, through campus and around the outskirts of town.  Nice to have freedom and fresh air, in life.

Doubt is a question mark; faith is an exclamation point. The most compelling, believable, realistic stories have included them both.
      — Criss Jami

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Gratitude List 1565

(1) Exercise is going well, especially now that I got my bicycle fixed. I can always do long rides on the days I don’t run. Even in the heat, they’re not burdensome, because the air creates a breeze as I ride. I’m also getting “addicted” to my 2 1/2 mile running course, and I’ve twice run it two days in a row now.

(2) I got a gig writing out piano parts for the songs of an old friend. He happened to call from Arizona, right on the evening when I realized the workshop would have to be truncated.

(3) Had the second day of cognitive processing therapy for PTSD. Although the course seems to have been designed with veterans of combat in mind, I can see a lot of parallels between street life and a life of active combat. The triggers are often very similar, and I believe this will be helpful.

(4) Been very absorbed the past few days getting tracks ready for Dave, the new sound designer. It’s been an interesting process which I’m for the most part enjoying. Looking forward to our session tomorrow night.

(5) No matter what happens with the workshop, I’m glad Keva is going to stick around the area and that she and will remain in touch. Great to have someone with so much potential, learning how to sing my songs.

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Lead Me on Level Ground

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

— Psalm 143

Did Jesus Ever Doubt?

Somebody messaged me the other day saying they had a “religious conundrum” they wanted to run past me. I told them I wasn’t sure I could be of much help, but that I would be happy to entertain their conundrum. It was then that they asked me: “Did Jesus ever doubt?”

Yes,” I answered. “He doubted because He was human.”

Then I cited two instances where I believe Jesus expressed doubt. One was the famous event at Gethsemane, when He prayed that, if it were possible, the cup might pass from Him. He also prayed: Not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) So the way that Jesus distinguishes Himself from the Father may seem to contradict one of the more notorious of His statements: I and the Father are One.” (John 10:30).

However, as I told my friend, Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. He was human, born of his mother, and divine, born of God the Father. So the human part of Him doubted — thus He spoke: “Not as I will.” I, in this context, refers to the agency of his humanity. “You” – in this context — refers to divine agency.

But what did He doubt? I don’t believe He doubted God’s sovereignty. He knew He was about to be subjected to brutal torture, whipped and beaten and nailed to a Cross for hours on end, culminating in the death of his human body. Naturally, this made him afraid. So, in my opinion, what He doubted was His own ability, as a human being in the flesh, to handle it.

Then a second instance came to mind. As he neared death, after hours on the Cross, He cried out: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

As I see this, He was so near to death by this time, that He envisioned the separation of His Spirit from his body, and his highly weakened human self was despairing. But then (after a period of time), He said something else: “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

The way I read this, He had a moment of doubt, feeling that God had forsaken him, but as he overcame that doubt, He gained in faith.

Consider also where the words of his question originated. Psalm 22, a psalm of David, begins “My God, My God, why have you forsake me?” It goes on to describe a situation not unlike Jesus’ agony on the Cross — even though the Psalm is attributed to King David, who lived many centuries before Christ.

““I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed. My heart is like wax; it melts away within me.” (Psalm 22:14)

This could easily describe a state of agony that our Lord was experiencing at the time.

For dogs surround me; a band of evil men encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones; they stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”  (Psalm 22:16-18)

These verses enter a level beyond speculation. The Lord’s hands and feet actually were pierced, as He hung crucified. The centurions actually did divide his garments, and cast lots for his clothing. These words, written long before the Crucifixion, depict a very similar, very challenging event.

But as the Psalm proceeds, David begins to call upon the Lord, despite his initial despair:

But You, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of wild dogs.”  (Psalm 22:19-20)

As the Psalm progresses further, David changes his mind about his God having forsaken him:

For He has not despised or the torment of the afflicted. He has not hidden His face from him, but has attended to his cry for help.”  (Psalm 22:24)

Then the rest of the Psalm is full of expressions of praise and thanks to God.

Could it be that after Jesus expressed his moment of doubt on the Cross, He then silently recited the words of Psalm 22 within himself? Could He possibly have gone through the same progression — from doubt to faith to prayer, and finally to praise?

I don’t doubt it. This is a progression that we believers are called to enact. Our first reactions are always in the natural; that is, in the flesh. In order to do the right thing, we need to effect a progression from natural to spiritual; that is, unless the right things have become ingrained in our beings.

As Jesus returned to a position of faith, as the Psalmist had done long before Him, He then took the leap of faith: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!”

Jesus was humanly compelled to sin as we all are, yet He remained free of the sins He was tempted to commit. (Hebrews 4:15). Had He yielded to sin, had He acted on His doubts, He would not have been able to die on the Cross for all the sins of humanity.

So my answer is “Yes.” Jesus doubted because He was human. But He did not yield to His doubts — because He was divine.

© 2021 by Andy Pope

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Tuesday Tuneup 113

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a different place.

Q. What’s wrong with the present place?

A. Too small.

Q. Your apartment is too small?

A. No.  This town is too small.

Q. Too small for what?

A. For my comfort.

Q. What do you mean?

A. Things get around.

Q. What did you do?

A. I lost my cool.

Q. Why?

A. Somebody pressed my buttons.

Q. How?

A. They kept making this mistake.  But they didn’t know it was a mistake.   And I was too afraid of hurting them to be open about why it was a mistake.  To this day, they don’t think they made a mistake.  But that itself is a mistake.

Q. But how did this press your buttons?

A. It didn’t — until they started to blame it all on me.  Then I blew my top.  It wasn’t all my fault.  What was my fault was that I kept pretending everything was okay, out of not wanting to hurt them, and not wanting to lose them.   

Q. Did you lose them?

A. Something like that.   Or maybe they lost me.   But it doesn’t matter.  I just want to be in a different place.

Q. What kind of place?

A. A larger place.   A place I can call home.   A place where you’re allowed to have problems.  Where you’re allowed to make mistakes without risking it becoming small town gossip.

Q. Where would this place be?

A. I don’t know.   I’m used to the big cities.  I’m not used to the small towns.   Even now, after nearly five years, I’m not used to it.

Q. What about the workshop?

A. It might be a good idea to record a few songs — piano and singing only — using our respective smartphones.  I’ve noticed the iPhones have very good sound quality.   I don’t want their hard work to have gone to waste.

Q. Can you stick around long enough to do this?

A. Probably.

Q. Where will you go if you leave?

A. North and West.  Spokane first.   Then maybe Seattle.  

Q. What about money?

A. It’s a matter of timing.   The wherewithal will emerge if it’s in His will.

Q. Are you in His will?

A. I believe so.  I believe I have an inheritance in His kingdom.

Q. How large an inheritance?

A. At this point?  I’m sure it’s pretty small.  It might become larger, if I hang around and start doing the right things.  Whatever they are.  

Q. Anything else?

A. I’m tired.   And I want to go home.

The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1564

(1) Nice 2 1/2 mile run on that pleasant shady trail called Paradise Path.   Didn’t time it (heaven forbid!) but I clearly ran faster than usual.   It is an intriguing source of great gratitude that an O.G. like me can even still be running, after all the toll life has taken on me.

(2) Sure feels nice to be in the air-conditioned Co-Op on a day when many businesses are closed because it’s too hot for the workers in their buildings without air conditioning.   Nice that the Co-Op has reopened completely, and nice to be enjoying a salad of my choice for the first time in over a year.

(3) The fifth draft of the Vocal Score and Draft 5-T of the EIB Script are complete and have been uploaded on the Box links now indicated.   I am pretty sure I’m done, except for I need to insert a Table of Contents in the vocal score, which attempted task grossly challenged my aging nerves.

(4) Great conversations with my sponsor Matt lately, who is interested in my tutoring him in Music Theory.

(5) I can’t explain it, but I feel a bit freer than usual.  Something about the Kids, something about the workshop.   All’s well that ends well, I suppose.  Nothing like quitting when you’re ahead.   A folded hand is better than a hand spinning out of control.  At least I was able to finally love.  Only a small, select group of people received it, but I finally knew that what I experienced — for one — was Love.

“Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson

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A Personal Note

This may turn out to be a slightly more personal post than I’m inclined to produce. Not that I’m experiencing a quandary in my personal life — in fact, I’m not even sure I have a personal life — but that I’m experiencing a quandary in my spiritual life.  It’s a quandary that I’m inclined to share.

A strange conflict is taking place between desire be positive and optimistic in life, and my moral obligation to assume responsibility for my choices.

It may seem at first that the two are unrelated.  How would a sense of obligation to assume responsibility for my choice conflict with a desire to remain positive?   Aren’t the most happy people the ones who do assume responsibility for their personal choices, rather than blame their misfortunes on others?

Happiest People Meme (2)

Apparently, this is the case.  So let me explain what I mean.

I am a very introspective person who is continually examining his behavior.  I often find great fault in my choices.  Then I feel guilty for having made the wrong choice.   The more wrong choices I make, the more guilty I feel.   When I feel sufficiently guilty, I find myself despairing.  I believe that my personality is impossible — that it will never become any better than it is today, and like-as-not worsen with age.

Today I happen to  be in a very good mood.   I slept a good six hours and had a nice two and a half mile run in the morning.  A good night’s sleep followed by a good run tends to lift my spirits.   So, while I’m feeling good, I’d like to examine this dynamic.

First off, it is possible that some of the choices over which I feel guilty are not actually wrong.   For example, I felt guilty for not being there for my daughter last night when she wanted critique on some of her work.  But was it actually wrong that I was unavailable?   Not really.  I was simply unavailable.  Not everything that one feels guilty about is an indicator that one has done something wrong.

Secondly, it’s possible that I am forgetting that Jesus died for all of my bad choices, and that I am cleansed from my former sins.   I almost hesitate to include this part.   We’ve probably all met believers who rationalize all kinds of immoral behavior on the basis of having been “forgiven.”  For these people, the words of St. Paul in Romans Six are lost:

Shall we then sin that grace my abound?  God forbid!   — Romans 6:1

But I don’t think I fit that modus operandi.  I’m a lot more uptight about my personal peccadilloes than many believers.  Often, people tell me I’m “too hard on myself.”  While that may be true, I don’t think it ought to be a justification for moral laxity.

For example, I sometimes don’t exercise due restraint in social situations, or over email.   I feel as though I am spewing my overactive mind upon innocent recipients of email replies.  Then, I have to apologize for the behavior, which leads to an unwanted discussion with said recipients.  I feel as though I am often having to “put out fires” that I myself have started.

So now you see how my desire to be fully accountable for my actions can make a dent in my positive spirit.  What is tempting – and what I try not to do — is to base my positive feelings on a comparison between myself and others.   Suppose I say: “Well, at least I’m better than John Doe.   At least I don’t try to pull that kind of stuff.”  If I do so, how is this any different than refusing to look at my own actions?

Not much, I fear.   Or am I only being hard on myself?

Maybe you know.   Until recently, when someone said — yet again – that I am “too hard on myself,” I honestly had no idea what they were talking about.  In my world, if anything, I’m too lax.

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The Knowledge of God

If you accept My words
and hide My commandments within you,
if you incline your ear to wisdom
and direct your heart to understanding,
if you truly call out to insight
and lift your voice to understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search it out like hidden treasure,
then you will discern the fear of the LORD
and discover the knowledge of God.
     Proverbs 2:1b-5

Note

To whoever read my Thursday blog post (now in the trash), I removed it because of a logical inconsistency towards the end.

Before I removed it, I reformatted it and submitted it to Spokane Faith and Values. But something didn’t feel right. When I was walking to work this morning, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks.

I turned back, copped the Wi-Fi at the nearby A&W, and rescinded the submission. Tracy Simmons my editor said “no rush” — which is unsurprising. She hadn’t expected me to submit anything in the first place, being as I’d told her how wrapped up I am in the summer musical workshop.

But I also had to contact everyone I’d send the reformatted version to — approximately ten people — and let them know.

One such person — an evangelical Christian — said she had read it and very much liked it. She suggested that the “logical inconsistency” might be best explained by my artistic temperament.

Then, when I explained what the logical inconsistency was, she was like: “Wow! Why didn’t I see that? Yeah – you definitely have to rewrite it!”

(And I will be able to rewrite it. I know what I was trying to say. The English language failed me — but it’s not irreconcilable.)

Finally, my daughter, who is not exactly your Bible-believing Bible thumper (if you get my drift) replied with: “Intriguing! Can’t wait to see the amended version.”

All that said, if anybody wants a copy of the piece as it is, I’ll send it to you if you think you can find the logical contradiction. First person to detect it gets a free piano CD of your choice. (I have several, in addition to the four on this page that you get to listen to for free.)

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Summertime Happiness

Here’s a piano rendition of Clark Gesner’s song “Happiness” with a bit of the Gershwin “Summertime” thrown in as an afterthought. It’s entirely spontaneous, and was done at a moment when I felt I needed release from work-related and heat-related stress. I must disclaim that there is a clicking sound in the background at the beginning which may or may not interfere with your listening pleasure. (My daughter said it didn’t.)  It may be attributed to the fan that was running above me, being as my church (like many buildings in this area)  is devoid of air-conditioning.

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