Name That Tune

If you've had a discussion with me since, oh, March 2014, you know that we are in full blown college research and application mode. Frankly, it's a little disturbing to me. Why, back in my day (Sonny Boy!) you could get into college if your check didn't bounce. It's a bit different today. Colleges seem to be, on the one hand, more selective and, on the other, expecting everyone to graduate high school and shuffle off to university. In a lot of ways the higher education system is broken, but before I get too distracted with the politics and policy of it all, I want to tell a story.

Our son is applying to several universities. I will be tickled if he attends any of them; they are all good schools. But in the process of researching, visiting, evaluating and applying I've developed a new, to me, appreciation of my son, and the man he is becoming. Some of what I see is concerning, but mostly, I'm proud. I think he's a fine young man, which, I imagine, makes me no different than any other parent. How I came to this new appreciation is not terribly unique either. We spent spring break driving from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, just me and the boy, visiting various schools and having some long talks while driving, when he wasn't overly involved in video games or texting or sleeping. We took another school exploration trip in the summer, this time with his mother, which added another dimension to my observations. Since then we have had many discussions on the pros and cons of all the schools and our friends have quizzed him on his plans. It's interesting to learn what he thinks is important which, unsurprisingly, doesn't match up exactly with my thoughts. In any case, I can see the transition coming from following Mom & Dad's lead to following his own. A little scary, yes, but equally exciting. I suppose I should begin the story, now that you have the background.

He has applied to Rice University. It was one of my dream schools when I graduated, and I think it might be beyond his reach, but hey, as they say in golf, 'never up, never in,' and we encouraged him to go for it. He's done all the right things ... campus visits, retaking standardized tests, agonizing over essays. He even went to the optional interview and is applying early decision, which means if he's accepted he is obligated to attend. The college admission soothsayers say it demonstrates sincere interest and committment. I'm okay with it, since from my perspective it is the best fit. Unfortunately, the boy has never been fully invested in grades or GPA. In any case, we will find out at some point if the effort has been sufficient.

A traditional feature of the Rice University application is "the box." It asks the applicant some generic sort of question and they are asked to put something in "the box." The prompt this year was "what appeals to you?" and applicants were asked to upload an image or graphic that appeals to them. No explanation, no rules, no penalty (theoretically) if you choose not to; it's just another way for the admissions counselors to see something 'outside the box' of the admissions process. I would have posted a picture of a bell ... a-"peal"-ing ... get it? ... but he has a bit more invested in this process than me (at this point) and probably would not be receptive to my punny suggestion. Instead, out of the blue, on Sunday, he asked me if we had any pictures of the pipe organ at church. I could not imagine what he needed pipe organ pictures for, and then he explained.

"I have to upload a picture of something that appeals to me for the Rice application. I've thought about it a lot and I think the church organ is what I want to use. It's music and engineering, combined, the two things I'd like to study in college."

Hard to argue with that logic so, dutiful father that I am, I went in search of pipe organ photos. I was
shocked at how many we had ... everything from the elevation drawing to components before the organ was assembled (see above) to various worship and festival services to a group of African students dancing and singing in front of it. Our applicant wanted a photo that reflected both music and engineering, so we combined a couple and came up with this:

I've often described our son as having a math and science mind, with the eyes and ears of an artist, and I think his choice for "the box" reflects that pretty well. Now, as flattering as all this may seem for the boy, it's not really the takeaway I get from this story. Let me explain.

The pipe organ may have been a clever choice, but what struck me in all this is the constancy of the pipe organ as a backdrop in our life. Now you might take this to mean that we've spent a lot of time in the church sanctuary, and that would be true. Or, you might take it to mean that people take pictures when they get dressed up or attend special events, both of which happen frequently at a church, and that would be true, too. Or perhaps the pipe organ simply came to mind because last Sunday happened to be the 10th anniversary of its dedication, and the church was filled with glorious music that was impossible to ignore. That, unfortunately, is not completely true.

As I was walking in to church that Sunday morning, I took two steps from my truck and heard the
organ. Our organist was practicing, and rocking the house. I could hear it across the parking lot, with the doors to the church closed, and I thought, "Wow. Awesome.", wondering what was in store musically for worship. I didn't realize it was the anniversary yet. As I approached the church there were two separate people walking their dogs, cutting across our parking lot to get to the park across the street. Both were focused on their dogs, heads down, with a deliberate steady pace. They never seemed to acknowledge the music. They seemed oblivious.

When I shared the dog walker story with my Sunday School class one friend pointed out that the dog walkers were probably making sure their dogs weren't pooping. Our pastor commented that she would not be surprised if that was the case because 'we spend our lives surrounded by the glory of God, but are too busy looking for sh** to notice.'

And that's what I mean by constancy. I am no better than the dog walkers; I am not judging them. I heard the music because it has been a constant in my life for many years. They did not hear it, or chose to ignore it, because it did not belong to them, it was not part of their life. Don't misunderstand. I am not claiming that God only belongs to church-goers. What I'm trying to say is that in this miraculous world it is all too easy to focus on today's concerns, last week's disappointments, tomorrow's fears and completely miss the miracles.

To see or hear or participate in miracles you must seek them, become attuned to the song that is written by God on your heart and listen for that melody, however faint it might be, in your everyday life. The Sanctuary Pipe Organ at Bentwood Trail Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas has provided a soundtrack, embedding the wide range of God's song in my mind, in my hearing. It has lifted me up. It has consecrated vows. It has glorified saints. It has encouraged faith, inspired confidence and made God appealing in a unique way to a special young man. But to witness this miracle, to be a part of it, you have to be there, you have to make it part of your life or it is too easy to overlook.

P.S. This is the one I really wanted him to use in "the box," but for some reason he wasn't too keen on it:

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