When I was in fifth grade I joined the school band and learned to play trombone. We were soon ranked by our ability and I was first chair. Tommy was last chair.
One day the band director told me that Tommy was having trouble keeping up and asked if I would stay after school and help him. When I showed up for the lesson, I told him we could warm up by playing some scales, but what I learned was surprising. He couldn't play a single note.
I wondered how he had blended in so long without being discovered by those around him, so during our next band class I watched him and saw that Tommy moved his slide along with everyone else, synchronized with the others around him. He was going through the motions, but not playing any music.
Looking at my life, I can see there have been times when I have done the same thing. I have wrestled with the difficult questions of faith and in the struggle well-meaning people have sometimes implied that those kinds of questions should not be asked. I've seen this happen to others as well. If you have experienced it, you may know that it can lead to loneliness, to simply going through the motions of religion, perhaps even simply mimicking others.
But when we look into scripture, we see raw, honest questioning all over the place.
The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible asks very difficult questions about faith and life. He worries that everything is meaningless. He writes about despair, fear of death and the mystery of God.
Ecclesiastes is not the final word of the Bible on these matters and yet the Bible provides space to ask these questions. And even in this struggle, the author eventually writes this: "Eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has long ago approved of what you do."
The author encourages us to find peace in God and enjoy creation, even in the midst of great doubt and fear. Ecclesiastes reveals an honest, raw faith, but with hope. There is questioning and pain as part of the life of faith, but there are joys as well. The author of Ecclesiastes encourages us to live the life we have, seeking wisdom and seeking God.
Tommy eventually learned to play the trombone as we worked through the music together. He may not have been first chair, but that never mattered anyway. He learned to stop mimicking others and play the music.
We need community to move forward in faith, and I hope to continue to learn to be honest and to embrace the mystery of God, inviting those around me to do the same.
Dylon Brown is pastor at Newberg Church of the Nazarene
Northside church hosting movie night
Northside Community Church will host a screening of "I Can Only Imagine" at 6 p.m. Saturday. Popcorn and beverages will also be provided. For more information, call 503-538-0440 or visit www.northsidenewberg.org.