I’M HERE FOR THE MUSIC

No iTunes can match, no earbud replace the living intercourse of artist and audience.

The kid at the keyboard, Samuel, who is only sixteen and won’t mind me calling him that, had no idea what he was about to do to us. Oh he knew he was presenting a Chopin piece for an offertory, one he had practiced for many months in preparation for a local scholarship competition. And that our small church was a great place for a first public performance, a warm up for the big dance, but he could not know the rest.

That the music, Fantaisie Impromtu in C# Op. 66, was not specifically religious did not matter. All beauty belongs to God and, as per Philippians 4:8, our congregation celebrates it whenever we can. That such an intricate and demanding piece came from such a young man, with power, grace, skill, and sensitivity, moved the adults in the room on a level a sixteen-year-old cannot comprehend. When I realized he’d played it from memory I nearly fell off my stool, but you would have had to be there.

That’s the thing about live music. It is fleeting, communal, and transparent, lasting only as long as notes linger midair, shared only by those who perform with those who attend. No iTune can match, no earbud replace the living intercourse of artist and audience. Of all God’s creatures only humans have the experience created when a musician brings a composer’s song to life and infuses the listener with its soul.

You have to be there.

I’ve “been there” three times since last summer. Once to hear one of my favorite rockers, Don Henley, this was a gift from my daughters; once to hear the Ukrainian National Symphony, presented by the Danville Concert Association; and of course Samuel playing Chopin in church. (That none of the music was specifically Christian says things about the state of Christian performing arts, but we won’t go there today). Each time the music, the mastery of the artists, and the shared joy of the moment, moved me to tears. Each time I gave glory to God and thanked him for the gift. Earth is full of the echoes of heaven, and if we are capable of such beauty, pathos, and exultation through the combination of tone, rhythm, and word, what must God be able to do?

Some say that in heaven we will be able to hear color and see music. If so, I can’t wait. Until then keep singing in church, encouraging young musicians, and making room in your life to share the experience of live music, because if you want to be blessed by the piano man, you have to be there.

Oh, and Samuel? He won.

FINDING HAPPINESS

How do you find happiness? Apparently, more and more young Americans are finding less and less of it each year. At least that’s the opinion of author and political philosopher J. Budziszewski, who has had a ring side seat to rising generations as a professor for thirty-four years at the University of Texas at Austin.

In a recent World Magazine interview, Budziszewski (pronounced Bud-a-Chev-ski) says college kids are running in to the “hedonistic paradox” much sooner than previous generations. Hedonistic paradox is the title for the law of diminishing returns as applied to pleasure. The professor explained, “If you pursue truth and friendship for their own sakes, you will enjoy pleasure. If you pursue pleasure for itself, pleasure recedes and you are likely to find pain. Eventually you burn out … so many of these young people have started in on hedonism so young, and thrown themselves into it so thoroughly, that the paradox kicks in very early.”*

Budziszewski’s words struck a nerve because I had recently finished a sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes whose author, King Solomon, knew more about the pursuit of pleasure than anyone. Solomon went after pleasure with the intensity of Peyton Manning dismantling an NFL defense. He had more sex partners, more and bigger parties, more financial success, more fame, and more of everything else than most of us could imagine. His conclusion? It’s emptiness, the vain pursuit of a slippery breeze.

So again, how do you find happiness? How do you find happiness that won’t burn you out and leave you in pain? Here are a few of the answers I’ve found. It has less to do with how and much more to do with who.

The who begins with God. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” C. S. Lewis said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” I’ve found this to be true. When my relationship with God is first, every other pleasure is enhanced, like eating dark chocolate with black coffee, the combined experience is better than either one alone. Every good thing is a gift from my loving Father and I enjoy it more knowing it came from him. But when I put pleasure first even the good things are diminished.

Worship, the abandonment of all concerns and self-thoughts in praise and adoration, fills me with happiness and peace. Ditto prayer that has said all that needs be said and that does not end with “amen.”

The “who” continues with others: I’m never happier than when I’ve made my wife smile or laugh, than when I see her or my children flourishing in their gifts (she is always happy when she is creating beauty). Seeing others flourish, family, friends or fellow-believers fulfilling the calling and expressing the gifts the Creator gave makes me happy.

Communicating truth, whether in the pulpit, in a song, in this blog or face to face, telling the eternal truths of Scripture energizes me. I’m doing what my Father created me to do, and like Olympic runner Eric Liddel said of his gift of speed, “When I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Sex with the wife of my youth, sex without shame and without fear, absolutely certain that our intimacy and vulnerability with each other is protected by covenant loyalty and blessed with innocence by our Creator, makes me deliriously happy.

The where and what include motorcycle riding in the mountains on a spring day, especially with friends. I find myself singing thanksgiving songs as I throw it through the curves.

A good meal with good friends, helping others solve their problems mechanical or spiritual, these things give me joy.

All the above accompanied by beautiful music performed with excellence, or just music all by itself.

All of these things are gifts from the hand of a kind creator who gave us this promise:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ John 7:37-38.

If you thirst for happiness, if you long for joy, go to him and drink and you will never thirst again.

*J. Budziszewski: Generation disordered. Q&A | The sexual revolution has left many college students with empty lives, but there is a longing for something more. By MARVIN OLASKY “Off the grid,” Sept. 5, 2015.