I’ve mentioned on the blog how I conned my way into our school’s Select Chorale my senior year of high school without being able to read music, but I don’t know that I’ve given you the insider secret of how I did it.
There were two key strategies to my deception: I had to work really hard to keep up in class…and I cheated at sight-singing.
Sight-signing basically involves getting a completely new piece of music to sing on “la” in four part harmony. Our director played the accompaniment and listened to make sure we were accurately reading our parts the first time through instead of just relying on our memory.
This should have been mildly terrifying to someone who didn’t read music. Except, guess what we used for sight-singing?
Can all the old-school church kids give an “Amen, Hallelujah”? Sure, my church sang some modern choruses (we even got—gasp—a drum set when I was in middle school) but we still had pew hymnals and used ‘em, including some Sunday night services (which we also still had) consisting of two straight hours of people requesting their favorites from Phyllis Kantenwein, who I’m convinced had the most perfect-for-an-organist name in the history of Christianity.
During class, our choir director avoided common standbys like “Amazing Grace” or pretty much any Christmas carol, but he assumed no self-respecting teenager would know the harmonies to forgotten gems like “He Hideth My Soul” or “In the Garden.”
Heh, heh. Oh, it was great. I was so proud of my cleverness, blithely belting out harmonies while my classmates who actually knew how to read music hesitated as their head knowledge worked to catch up with their voices.
Here’s the other thing: even if I hadn’t heard that specific song before, hymns tend to follow certain patterns. Their lyrics accent the same words, their sustained chords resolve in similar ways, and their melodies climb at similar points (like, every song about the resurrection ever spikes insanely high on “he arose” because apparently Jesus isn’t rising from the dead unless the sopranos and tenors nearly die to declare it).
Those days, I looked at that page and saw a mass of dark dots and lines with no clear and direct interpretation, but because I’d been steeped in what hymns sounded like—because their structure was so close to me that I knew it by heart—I could sing along.
So…why am I telling you this? (Assuming that not many of you need tips for tricking a high school choir.)
Because right now, I’m looking at the world and seeing a mass of dark news and headlines with no clear and direct interpretation. I can’t give solutions for some of the problems I talk about on this blog because I just don’t know yet. I struggle to hold on to hope in a time that seems like such a God-forsaken mess.
Maybe you do too.
So this is the post where I remind you: we have everything we need to sing praises in the midst of chaos. Maybe there’s nothing in the Bible that directly addresses a situation—it’s not a collection of advice columns or an encyclopedia—but the entire tone and tenor of the Scripture will point us in the right direction, and that includes aiming us toward hope. Here are a few ways you can join in:
Remind yourself of the promises of God.
Yes, read through a list of the direct promises of God, most of them familiar ones that show up on calendars and tattoos and such. They are beautiful and powerful ways to be reminded of the big picture.
But don’t forget that the unchangeable character of God is also a promise. One year, when I was feeling hopeless, I stuck a paper on my wall and wrote, “God is” at the top. And I kept reading my Bible even though it felt like the emotional equivalent of gnawing on celery sometimes. (Sorry, celery lovers, but just because a plant doesn’t poison us doesn’t mean we should eat it.) Every time I saw something true about who God was, I wrote it down, and it changed my relationship with him. I’m planning to start a new list this year.
Reacquaint yourself with the life of Jesus.
The next several months, read through the gospels and look at how Jesus lived. If we’re called to follow him as his disciples, that has to change us. I’ve found that I tend to think of “Jesus stories” as flares of isolated and exciting miracles or parables and not as a guide for how to live. Even outside of direct ethical teaching like the Sermon on the Mount (which is a gold mine), just watching how Jesus treated others is a reason for hope because it gives the church direction on how to move forward in love.
Read the letters to the churches in Revelation.
If you thought all of my advice was going to be happy-smiley encouragement…ha. Ha. Ha. You are apparently new to the blog and me. I’m not saying haughty cynicism is the way to go (that’s actually a huge pride trap for a lot of Christians, including sometimes me). But I also want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting a golden, glowing, “life isn’t all that bad, go and be blessed” message.
Revelation 2-3 makes great reading because it shows the various responses the church can have to a godless culture. As you read, sure, ask which one best defines the church in your country in general. But don’t forget to look for yourself. Where do you make compromises? What is your heart chasing after? What can you learn from the praise or warnings passed on to that church? Our church recently went through a sermon series on Revelation, and I found the letters the most convicting part. Good stuff for the times we live in.
There are hundreds of other texts that challenge us to remain hopeful in a crazy world. These are a few that have been on my heart lately, because I realized: in some ways, I’d given up. It was enough for me to critique our culture and challenge the church…without really believing that God could bring change. I had started to lose hope, and that’s a dangerous place to be.
If you’re there too, this is my call to bring you back. I will always 100% affirm this is a fallen world full of sinful people, and because of that, there’s a lot of room for hard words and sorrow.
But we’re the choir, church. Sometimes we’re not going to know what’s going on, and many times we’ll feel mildly terrified when it’s our turn to break the silence, but the world needs our song. Let’s go with what we know—the truth that’s gone so deep it’s a part of us—and sing it loud.