October 2006


One of my greatest frustrations is my lack of compassion for people. My head can see each person’s subjective (and usually, very painful) experience. I ask God daily for his heart of compassion. But no matter what I do, I cannot instill an authentic, lasting compassion in my own heart.

In my last post, I hypothesized that a reason for this may be my underexposure to severely hurt people in the first 20 years of my life. But today my dad highlighted a far more important reason, one that is illustrated by The Chosen, by Jewish novelist Chaim Potok. I will summarize the story for you:

During WWII, two Jewish teens in New York become friends. One is Danny, son of a tzaddik in a strict Hasidic sect. Reuven is a liberal Jew. Both are very bright and gifted young men. Danny’s father, Reb, never speaks to Danny. Reb goes so far as to relay messages to Danny through his mother. Reb does, however, speak freely with his younger son. Neither Danny nor Reuven know why this is, and come to resent Reb.

Finally, Reb reveals the reason for his silence. Though it broke his heart, he chose to raise his elder son in silence because only suffering would teach him compassion, and Danny was too talented to endure suffering naturally. Reb knew his son needed a caring soul to compliment his magnificent mind.

I have not compassion because I have not suffered.

Even before today, I’ve been asking God to test my faith because I know I have not been tasted. I’ve received life on a silver platter. I do not have compassion because I do not know pain. I must trust in God’s timing.

I take great pleasure in awareness of my strengths and weaknesses, and slightly less pleasure in addressing them actionably. Perhaps ironically (“perhaps”, because I’m not sure that word means anything anymore), one of my biggest weaknesses is an insensitivity to weakness in others.

I grew up among exceptionally strong, flexible, loving, authentic, balanced, effective humans. Only in the past couple years have I had regular and long-lasting contact with many profoundly broken and hurting people. So, not only do I have little experience in being sensitive to weak people, but also I often fail to enjoy their company because I can’t just be myself around them; I have to walk on glass, tip-toeing around their tender insecurities or wounded antisocialism. Clearly, my own heart does not reflect the heart of Jesus, who specifically sought to love and fellowship with weak people. God, give me your heart for every person I encounter. Transform my selfish mind.

Though I spend much of my time minimizing my weaknesses, I have failed to properly develop my strengths. To help begin correcting that mistake, I took the Strengths Finder test, which had been recommended to me by several people I admire.

My top five strengths are pretty much all the same thing:

Input – I constantly consume and collect data and items of interest. (Yup, I am always studying topics of interest, and my album collection should hit the 5,000 mark any day now.)
Intellection – I like to think. (Yup, my mind never stops, which is why I only sleep 3-4 nights a week.)
Learner – I am excited by learning. (Yup, I love to learn. I recently listened to a 48-hour lecture on the history of music, and saw a 19-hour documentary on early jazz.)
Ideation – I am fascinated by ideas. (Yup, I love it when an elegant idea can explain a complex subset of reality.)
Restorative – I love to solve problems. (Yup, I tinker with computers and the human mind to learn how they work, so I can fix them.)

So, my path to maximizing my strengths is clear and unified. I would also like to capitalize on some more specific underdeveloped strengths, for example guitar performance and creative writing. Soon, I’ll start reading the book that accompanies the Strengths Finder test.

I can’t stand contemporary Christian music, especially contemporary Christian praise music. It is the most artistically worthless, uncreative genre in all of popular music (yes, including teen pop and country). And that’s too bad, because I want to listen to music that edifies my spiritual walk, but the utter banality of contemporary Christian music grates against me as I listen to it.

There is one solution to this. If I am playing the music, on piano or guitar, then I can enjoy childishly simple music. So, I’m going to start learning to play some worship songs. But also, I’ve taken up the habit of singing Scripture to an improvised chord progression. For example, I’ll sing through Proverbs to some progression of D, G, Bm, and A. I’ve found Radiohead’s “Karma Police” to be good accompaniment to the melancholy Psalms that lament the prospering of the wicked. Or I’ll just play some chords and sing “Holy, holy, holy, holy, hallelujah, holy, hallllllllleeeeeelllluuuuujah,” etc. Good times.

If any of my readers are bored by CCM but want to praise God with music, give this a try.

P.S. I did find a CCM band called The Blackthorns who sound like a cross between Third Ear Band and Nick Cave; that’s pretty good for CCM. I’m going to have to hunt down more of that stuff.

This weekend I went on a kickass men’s retreat in Alexandria, MN and had great fellowship with some great guys, some of whom discipled me. Two of them had previously built serious music collections like my own, but had since trashed them because they were getting in the way of their relationship with God. I think I’ll have to do this in my own life some time, but I need to do it because my heart has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, not because I want to force myself into right living like a Pharisee.

But then, an hour after I got home, I had a very special encounter with someone precisely because I have invested so much into music. We talked about how our favorite Richard Wagner music is the first four minutes of Das Reingold, how we love the ambient soundscapes of Biosphere, and how the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony foreshadows swing jazz’s sense of syncopation. It was amazing!

But now I’m confused. God, were you telling me to cast everything that may be a hinderance into the fire, or did I come to that conclusion wrongly and your Spirit led me to this encounter to show me the value of the passion you have given me for music? I don’t know.

President Bush just signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Basically, President Bush can now declare anyone an “enemy combatant”, lock them up, throw away the key, and never give them a trial. He’s been doing this for a while, but Congress just gave him the power to do it legally, ignoring the Constitution.

Allow me to quote Jonathan Turley:

“People have no idea how significant this is. Really a time of shame this is for the American system.—The strange thing is that we have become sort of constitutional couch potatoes. The Congress just gave the President despotic powers and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to Dancing With the Stars. It’s otherworldly..People clearly don’t realize what a fundamental change it is about who we are as a country.

Here’s a short video-story of free hugs. Being banned.

Click here to watch a very brief, awesome video of heavy makeup and then software image manipulation being applied to a model’s face before she’s “pretty enough” to be in a billboard advertisement. No wonder our perceptions of beauty are so wrong! This ought to make everybody, especially women, feel a bit better about themselves. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

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