In my music theory class this morning, we were discussing harmonic and melodic scales as they related to specific church modes and so on. Our professor explained with great detail and passion not only the mechanics of how to write and play such scales, but the importance of truly understanding precisely why they work the way they do.
“Precision is critical” he explained. “Close doesn’t count, except with hand grenades”.
As we listened to Shastakovich’s “Symphony No. 5 in D minor”, a beautiful fate symphony from 1937, I couldn’t help but think of the extraordinary precision of each musician as they played. The fourth movement (Allegro non troppo) is particularly captivating as the piece moves, almost militiristically, from D minor to D major, earning it the aforementioned “fate symphony” title. As the timpani pounds away relentlessly on those powerful tonic and dominant notes of D major, you can feel the sun burst through the clouds of a previously dismal arrangement. You can almost hear the strings cry and the brass bellow “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).
This resplendent shift from gloom to victory did not happen by accident. It was intentional, calculated, and deliberate. It was precise.
I often live my life with the hopes of personal conquest, while still carrying with me the copious knapsack of irresolute. This makes me ponder popular words of Hebrews 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)
In the original Greek of this passage, the main clause “let us run,” is qualified by three dependent clauses introduced by “having,” “throwing off,” and “looking off.” Interpreting the last two clauses with “let us” is acceptable, but communicates that they carry the same weight as the main clause, which they do not. In other words, even though we are certainly called to throw off everything that hinders and look to Christ, the main command of this particular passage is to “keep on running.”
So essentially, we can be encouraged to know we will finish because of the many who have finished before us, but we cannot be expected to win the race without a deep revulsion of sin and intentional fixation on Christ as the source, focus, and goal of this race, as He alone is the composer and perfecter of our faith.
My baggage is frustrating, yes, but the task first and foremost is to keep running with precision towards the one who set us free. To run, even when we feel crippled, or ill-prepared. To run because He’s given us life. It’s like one friend hesitatingly said today “It’s like the scene in Forrest Gump when he runs, even with his leg braces still on, and as he does, they begin to fall off”. God is not done with us yet.
It’s funny to me how often precision shows up in a negative context. We can be so precise with our sarcasm, with getting even, with complaining, with gossiping, with belittling, and with criticism. How differently would our world, or even just our lives look if we were as focused about being precise in our praise, encouragement, affection, comfort, and admonition?
I heard a news segment today about author James Kennedy and his new fairy-tale childrens novel entitled “The Order of the Odd Fish”. The book itself is certainly fascinating enough for you to check out on your own, but what interested me the most was the “Dome of Doom”; an art party, battle-dance, costume soiree James is organizing to celebrate the release of his book. Leading up to this event he encouraged fans to create and submit art inspired by characters and themes from his book to be shown at this marvelously bizarre assemblage. One particular piece that was submitted was an “Apology Gun” from Sir Festus’ collection of ludicrous weaponry, and that got me thinking.
What if we could “shoot” apologies (or compliments, encouragements, or praise for that matter) with the same precision and intent that we would normally fire their counterparts with. What if we were as serious about extolling and inspiring others, as well as admitting when we are truly wrong, as we would be if we needed to defend ourselves with a firearm in battle? Imagine what that kind of intentionality could look like!
May we live in that victory; in the knowledge that love has and always will overcome. May we not take, but make the opportunities in our lives to reassure and refresh those we come in contact with every day. May we live in the beautiful precision of grace in a world of ambiguous clutter.