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Always Practice Your Scales

September 6, 2017

You’re never too old to practice your scales.


That’s what my music teachers always told me. Even the most advanced musicians can benefit from rehearsing those basic musical patterns. Or, worse, their skills can slowly deteriorate in the background as they go “pff, I know my scales” and neglect to practice them at all.


It’s the same with our faith.


It can be fun to focus on the more advanced stuff – rehashing the homoiousious debate, or the particulars of the updated GIRM. (No I WON’T hold your hand during the Our Father, thankyouverymuch.) All the while letting those basic foundations of our faith wither away like boxes that have long-since been ticked.


That’s why I (a 30-year old man in New York) spend one week every summer on a mission trip with a bunch of teenagers from Wisconsin. Kid’s don’t let things slip. They ask obvious questions we’ve conveniently forgotten about, like “The reading said to give up everything and follow Christ. Why don’t we do that?”


Cue that awkward emoji. You know the one – the one that looks like it’s gritting its teeth while going “eeeeeeeee.”


But mission trips with teens don’t just make you re-ask the most basic questions (so you can re-answer them), it also makes you get off your butt and do something about it. Because, well, they’re mission trips. So they force you to re-think about the basics (like seeing yourself kinship with those we’ve marginalized in our society) and then spend time in community with them – at a shelter, or a pantry, or soup kitchen. 


I know what you’re thinking. “But I can go do that on my own, with people my own age.” Sure you can. But I guarantee you this – those 30-year old new Yorkers aren’t going to force you to lead an hour-long reflection on the minivan ride back with difficult questions like “why did that poor family eat together, when my rich family doesn’t?”




Or how about “In the Sermon On The Mount, God says he will give us the good things we ask for. Why didn’t he give my sick parent the health I asked for?”


Each time one of those questions comes up, I imagine St. Peter hitting “record” on the DVR of my life. Knowing full well this will be on the “your life in review” section of my entrance exam at the pearly gates.


Which is why the hardest part of the trip isn’t the trip. It’s the preparation before the trip. It feels like going on Jeopardy – you know you’re going to be put on the spot with a hard question. But you have no idea what the category is going to be. 


So every year, like it or not, I’m forced to get my faith into shape. I have to open my Bible, and start practicing those scales.


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