Sunday, June 5, 2005

Doug Yeo

Douglas Yeo, a Wheaton graduate who now plays bass trombone in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is one of my heroes - although I have never met him. He is an amazing musician and a committed Christian, and he has a fabulous website with many articles he's written. I'm posting some quotes from a few of his articles. Hopefully the quotes will pique your interest in reading the full articles. Whether you're a musician or you're tone-deaf, I recommend these articles to you highly. My favorite article of all is last in this post, with parts that impacted me in particular in bold here and there (and one funny part, too).

From The Safety, The Security, and The Sanctuary

We have lost this distinction between virtue and value at our peril. We are increasingly reluctant to condemn behavior and to stand for what we know is Right and True - rather, today we must "affirm" and "celebrate" everything. Those who have religious beliefs and act upon them are increasingly marginalized and called names. But Truth is Truth. One is not a "homophobe" because you say that the sexually promiscuous homosexual lifestyle is medically dangerous. One is not a "racist" when you question the wisdom and equity of affirmative action programs whether in the workplace or as school busing programs masquerading in the name of "diversity." One is not a "sexist" when you suggest that some topics in health education might be better taught and received when separating boys and girls. One is not "anti-school" when you raise questions about curricula and teaching methods which substitute a "feel-good" self-esteem for actual learning. The pejorative labels are easy to apply but they show a failure to want to actually reach to the roots of problems.

From The View From the Back Row

When a Christian makes music, he is not merely participating in the scientific phenomenon of vibrating columns of air to produce what we know as music. Music making is an intense spiritual experience, a celebration of creation, an act of love. And when the audience responds with a thunderous ovation, it is not the members of the orchestra, or Beethoven, or Wagner, or Copland they are applauding, but, whether they know it or not, it is the living God. It is God alone who bestows on composers the mysterious gift of composition, and on performers that unspeakable gift of interpretation. An orchestra offering a Haydn symphony is praising God no less than a choir singing gospel choruses. Every note speaks of the great Creator, the first source of all this world knows. In that respect, there is neither sacred nor secular, for, as all music comes from Him, so it represents Him to us in all of His varied forms.

From Winning Isn't the Only Thing (This article details how Mr. Yeo and his wife organized a group to battle the public school system's decision to distribute condoms to high school students without any accountability or parental permission.)

Light from darkness, hope from sadness, order from chaos, victory from the jaws of defeat. I was struck, even shattered as I listened. This was the answer to my question "WHY?" Here was God's message to me, the hoped for but unexpected sign.

Winning isn't the only thing. The battle was mine to fight, but the victory perhaps not mine to share. Manon Gropius fought polio but death overcame her. Our world is full of struggle and discouragement. But we know that the darkness ultimately will not overcome us.

From I Am Music

Music's ubiquitous power moves us, it annoys us, it inspires us, it soothes us. Music calms, hurts, recalls, cajoles, whispers and shouts. We gladly pay for it but we often despise it when it's free because we can't get away from it. Public or private, music proves over and over again that Tolstoy was right when he said, "Music is the shorthand of emotion."

From Whatever...

The very act of being a good steward of what God has given impels each individual to act excellently all the time. It is a constant state of being and doing. It is not reserved for the practice room, or the recital stage, or the audition moment. Excellence is, as [Harold] Best puts it, "the norm of stewardship."

Now, if by "whatever" Paul means we are to be committed to excellence in ALL things, and we understand that excellence is something which we are called to as the norm of life, we must accept, a priori, that excellence is not a burden. Excellence is the minute by minute working to be better than we once were. But it is not "perfection."

We should, and can, and must call ourselves to the high standard of excellence which God has entrusted to us. And while we must remember that excellence is a process - the very act of becoming better than we once were - rather than a destination, it is the only way to contextualize that which is true, right and pure in a world which stands against truth, rightness and purity. Where the world values relativism and compromise and is openly hostile to the Christian world-view which demands obedience to the True Word, servants of Christ know a higher standard, and know the effort to be stewardly excellent in "whatever" will be worth all of the hard work, pain and sacrifice when they hear their Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Excellence... gets noticed. It makes a difference. It changes people. And it honors the Lord. May we always pursue it, whether it be in a Kopprasch etude, a Kreutzer study, a Bach aria or a Berio Sequenza. Stewardly excellence rendered excellently is "a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God."

Finally, my favorite:

From On a Mission From God

This article by Douglas Yeo was first given as a chapel message at Greenville College and was subsequently modified and given as a chapel message at Lexington Christian Academy.

We know the truth of THIS:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

The darkness did not comprehend it. It could not overwhelm it, it could not snuff it out. It could not control it, change it, pervert it, twist it, maim it or claim it. For darkness hates light, and with light, there is no darkness.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Nor do {men} light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on the lamp stand;
and it gives light to all who are in the house."

Is it only my imagination that remembers vividly the many chapel speakers who challenged me to "go into overseas missions" or "reach the world for Christ as a pastor" or "we need more church youth workers to disciple the next generation?"

I heard those challenges; I prayed fervently for God to lead and direct me. I... wore out the knees on my jeans because every time I asked God what He wanted me to do, He said, through the talents and abilities He gave me: Play the trombone.

Now you will not find the word trombone in the Bible, at least not in the Bible as translated into English. The closest I can get is Martin Luther's translation of the Bible when he renders the word for "trumpet" as "Posaune" - the German word for trombone, or more literally, "large trumpet." Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:51 becomes, "Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trombone." And indeed, in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I AM the last trombone, but I digress.

God said: Play the trombone. And I struggled with that.

The pressure to enter full time "Christian ministry" was great. Nobody ever preached a chapel message on playing the trombone. But I heard dozens about foreign missions, about inner city missions, about seminary, about the pastoral ministry, about teaching missionary kids. It was the "Great Commission" that was constantly being thrown at me...

This was to be my work, I was told. GO - make - baptize - teach. And the vocational Christian ministry is a wonderful way to do that. My family and my wife's family have generations of ministers and missionaries in them who have done just that. And if that is what God is telling you to do, then you must do it. THAT is your mission.

But what if God is telling you to play the trombone, or paint with watercolor, or pump gas, or write novels, or drive a city bus, or, well, you fill in the blank. Are you - and I - missing something? Is the guilt that we have when we hear that challenge to change the world through full time vocational Christian ministry really justified?

The answer is found in the book of Romans, chapter 10, where Paul writes:

How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach unless they are sent?

Now I know that this passage is often quoted by pastors who want a raise. After all, here we have Paul, arguably the greatest evangelist who ever lived, talking specifically about preachers and how important they are. But to read this passage so narrowly is to miss the point.

Because where are those who do not believe? Where are those who are in darkness? Where are those who do not see the light? Are they only in churches where pastors preach? Are they only in villages where missionaries toil and testify? Are they only in junior high youth groups where young leaders try to get through to the teen age mind?

No. They are in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They are at Stop and Shop and Walgreens drugstore. At Starbucks. Wandering the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts and dancing on stage at the Boston Ballet. They are reading journals about architecture, magazines about sports cars, surfing the internet, they are walking into doctor's offices learning how to treat their diabetic child or hearing they have only months to live when that devil cancer is eating away at their liver.

All of those people need to see the light. Most will never darken the foyer of a church with their shadow. All of the full time Christian ministry workers in the world will not bring them to understand Christ because they are not where those workers are. They need the light, but how shall they hear without a preacher who comes to them?

You see, wherever you are there are people who need the Light. And the excellence with which we do what we do - as unto the Lord - gives us an opportunity to reach people we might not otherwise be able to reach. Excellence attracts those who want excellence. We do what we do as unto the Lord - WHATEVER we do. Whether it is play the trombone, or write those articles, or paint those pictures, or jump those hurdles or swing that bat or bale that hay, or counsel that unhappy couple, or teach that Sunday School class or even teach a college freshman music student what a Neapolitan sixth chord is. For in each of those callings - and indeed they are CALLINGS every bit as real and significant as being called to the foreign mission field - there are people you will meet and see and interact with who are longing to see the light... And you may be the only person God ever puts in their path who will tell them what they need to hear.

And why will they listen to you? Because you have credibility in their sight because: Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. You give your work your very best because your work is an offering for the Lord. And God is very concerned with the quality of our offering, make no mistake. When he asks for our first fruits, he does not want our leftovers. Let us never forget what he has done for us and why he did it.

For a world lost and dark, there is hope. The sacrifice of Christ on our behalf assures that God will look at us with Christ's righteousness credited to us... When we consider this undeserved gift that God has given us, how can we give him less than our best?

This calling you have - whatever it may be - is honored by God. You need not feel that guilt that you are not doing what someone tells you you should be doing. You simply need to be in that place where God calls you - whether or not it makes sense to you or anyone else. Because God will have you, in the words of the old gospel song, "Brighten the corner where you are."

Let me leave you not with a conclusion, but with a question.

What kind of impact would be made in the world if in every profession, in every job, in every undertaking, the people who were all giving their best were those who knew Christ? Do you think anyone would notice? Do you think anyone would care? Do you think anyone would listen to us when we spoke? Do you think anyone would ask us WHY we do what we do? Do you think it would make a difference if what we do, what we offer, what we craft, what we re-create, what we propose is done not for ourselves, or for our teachers, or for our boss, but as unto the LORD?

Think about it.

And then, just do it.

Because you have seen the light.

So that's it... that one is my favorite. I actually didn't post the whole thing, so if you like it, go read it in its entirety. I thought it was wonderful.

Yes, yes... I've heard so many people talk about "go - make - baptize - teach," as if the only way to do that is to go to Africa. And I don't mean to make light of those who are called to go to Africa. It's just that Christians seem to think, "why would you spend so much time and money learning to play the violin - something essentially useless for the Kingdom of God - when there are so many unsaved souls?" And Mr. Yeo's article expresses my thoughts perfectly. For me, reading it was very inspirational.

Another thing that really impacted me was this bit that I quoted earlier: Now, if by "whatever" Paul means we are to be committed to excellence in ALL things, and we understand that excellence is something which we are called to as the norm of life, we must accept, a priori, that excellence is not a burden. Excellence is the minute by minute working to be better than we once were. But it is not "perfection." Until I got to this bit, I had been adding more pressure to myself - Why can't I be better? Why can't I be more diligent? The stakes are so high; excellence because of all that Christ has done for me. Why can't I be a more effective light by achieving higher levels of excellence? And so on. And so often I feel this way... this weight or pressure, that God can't really be pleased, because if only I weren't so lazy sometimes, if only I had practiced those extra two hours yesterday... then I would be doing my best. And then I came to that bit: excellence is not a burden. Excellence is the minute by minute working to be better than we once were. But it is not "perfection." I felt such relief... I can't quite express it. I don't think that my tendencies toward feeling the need to work for approval and for acceptance from God are completely vanquished, but oh... that was really what I needed to hear. Working to be better than I once was... this I can do, and have consistently done over the past many years. And God is faithful.

There are articles about career possibilities and goals for musicians as well, including How to Pursue a Career in Orchestral Music, Symphony Auditions: Preparation and Execution (useful to any instrumentalist, not just the trombonist), Pros and Cons to a Career in Orchestral Music, and Performance Anxiety. All of these I found to be interesting and helpful, so... check it out.

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