Michael J. Thom Father. Nerd. Race fan. Musician.

27Aug/09

Passions

Author’s Note: To those of you looking for information regarding the discontinued NBC soap opera, you will be dismayed. Furthermore, this post will not deal with Dictionary.com’s first five definitions for the word “passion,” three of which deal with “sexual desire.” Sorry to disappoint.

Editor’s Note: This post is long. Also, it is a relatively “personal” post, instead of the usual commentary on life in general or specific things in society of interest. If you’re not interested in reading something personal, just move along…

Producer’s Note: Yes, the Author and Editor are one-and-the-same. Or is that two-and-the-same?

Why is it often so hard to figure out what you truly enjoy doing the most? I’ve never been a big fan of the career aptitude tests some high school students take to help guide the college major selection; I’ve always believed that an individual will know what is right for them to pursue, whether as a college major or a career.

I must admit I’m having a little trouble with this myself, though.

Most people know me as a music guy. I play trombone. (Or, if you know me from church, perhaps you know me as that drummer who plays some guitar on the side.) “So where are you teaching now?” I get asked by old friends and acquaintances, those who knew me during my tenure as a music education major at Ball State. Though I appreciate the conversations, I hate having to answer that question, largely because I don’t have one, “perfect” answer.

Brief aside: I don’t think it’s right that we, as a society, put so much importance on our jobs that when we meet someone it seems the only important things to find out are “what’s your name?” and “what do you do?” Nonetheless, this is the world we live in…

I am set to start working on Tuesday, September 8th, as a substitute teacher in Lawrence Township schools. I am thankful for a job (albeit a “full-time” job at “part-time” wages), but it’s not my life’s dream. I don’t take any particular joy or pleasure in teaching, especially middle-school kids (which is where I will be). It’s not my strongest suit. So I find myself daydreaming about, applying for, and occasionally even interviewing for other jobs (especially ones that are actually full-time and salaried!).

The problem is, as I sit there thinking, I cannot seem to settle on one or two main things I enjoy doing, things I am passionate about. Dictionary.com’s sixth definition for “passion” is as follows:

a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything: a passion for music.

I have too many things that I have some level of fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for. I’m struggling to “limit” myself by choosing just one as a career and relegating the others to the “hobby” category (and, in reality, doing away with some entirely for lack of time and/or funding). Here I will hash out a few ideas.

Music

Music has always been an important part of my life. I love listening to music of all kinds. I enjoy making music, whether playing trombone, playing drums, playing guitar, playing bass, singing, or even arranging music. I do enjoy teaching music, particularly being in front of an ensemble and making music through the players in front of me (again, why I would enjoy high school/college over middle school).

I’m just not sure that it is something to do professionally, full-time. I have said since finishing high school that if I could get a full-time orchestra gig, playing with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, or the Cincinnati Symphony, or Cleveland, etc., I would love that. To get paid to play my trombone is awesome. (I am fortunate enough to be playing with the Muncie Symphony Orchestra “full time” this year, but the MSO’s full-time is still very part-time.) The reality is that it is very unlikely that I will ever win a full-time orchestra audition, so I cannot bank on this.

Computers

Literally as long as I can remember, I have been using computers. 8088, 286, 386, 486, Pentium, PII, PIII, Celeron, Centrino, AMD, Motorola (PowerPC) Mac, and Intel Mac, I’ve had them all and used them all. I installed an internal modem with my dad and my grandpa (his dad) when I was probably 8 years old. And yes, I helped, because I wanted to jump ahead to set the jumpers (yes, those) before my grandpa was ready to move to that step. (I recall this because of his reaction, which taught me a small but important lesson: “One problem at a time.” I don’t always remember this lesson very well…)

But what to do with my computer skills? Many friends and family know me as the go-to guy when it comes to fixing/building computers. And yet, lacking any formal certification or training, I’m not terribly marketable to potential employers who want someone with “proven” computer chops.

I have had some good friends of mine suggest I start my own computer-repair business, starting by just putting fliers on mailboxes and going door-to-door in area neighborhoods. This may in fact be a terrific idea, but I’m terrified of 1) not making it financially, especially as I’m building [and I don’t have enough in savings to truly invest in a start-up project], and 2) the notion that, even in that arena, no one will trust my abilities and knowledge because of my lack of certification: why would they pay me to fix their computers when they could pay someone from the Geek Squad to do it? (And trust me, I have about a million answers to that, but that’s not the point here… and no offense to any Geek Squad employees reading this; I’m sure you’re all lovely people.)

Politics

“What? Michael can’t even read!” Yes, politics. There are times that I get very deep into reading, listening, and learning about current events and issues and historical events and issues, and at these times I feel that I would love to be involved on some level in politics and current events. That might be as intense as actually running for some local office. That might be as far from that as just writing and commenting about issues. As anyone who truly knows me can attest, I am very opinionated. I wish I had the time (the “reason”) to spend truly becoming knowledgeable about issues. If I did, I would love to use that knowledge to help make a difference.

Law Enforcement

Yeah yeah, it’s dangerous. But what kind of a man am I if I am more concerned with my own physical safety than the safety of others? I enjoy a certain level of risk in most things I do, so that wouldn’t bother me. I am respectfully aware of danger, though, not recklessly unsafe. I am also very alert, perceptive, vigilant, aware of my surroundings at all times, and I would love to use these traits to help protect and serve others.

Some may know that I already have gone as far through the application process at Fishers PD as they would let me (about halfway, I finished 37 of 68 when they took the top 34 to the next level). I am just about to start the same process with Indianapolis Metro PD. Fully aware that IMPD is statistically a more dangerous jurisdiction than FPD, I still want a foot in the door to the world of law enforcement. (And let’s be honest, despite the increased crime rate in Indy versus Fishers, only six IPD/IMPD officers have died in the line of duty since I was born over 23 years ago; with all due respect to the deceased, that’s not that terrible.)

Summary

These are just the main four areas that come to mind as I am writing this. If I had to pick just one of even those four to focus on, it would be very difficult – a near-tie between law enforcement and computers. Computers I have more experience and direct knowledge about, but I feel that I have a great aptitude toward both; I probably would receive more direct pleasure from law enforcement. See my quandary?

I enjoy serving people. I think that is apparent in what I’ve already written as well as in what I didn’t write about: my recent history, college experience, and full-time employment with a church last year. I’m just trying to find the best way to use the gifts God has given me to serve Him by serving His people. This should be a happy experience, and it mostly is, I’m just struggling to find the best fit for me. The job market isn’t helping much, to be sure, but ultimately it is up to me to make an opportunity for employment.

8Jan/07

More From Harold Best

I finally have had a bit more time to read. I'm really going to try to make that a regular occurrence.

Unceasing Worship by Harold Best. Excellent book. Every word he writes is so specific, so clear, so meaningful. As I've been reading, I have been trying to write down interesting portions, or quotable sections. I don't know how many times I've had to restrain myself, because if I wrote down everything I considered writing down I'd have practically made a copy of the book! Anyway, to a few of my latest specific thoughts.

Reading in the fourth chapter ("The Corporate Gathering and Authentic Worship") I came across this passage:

Specializing in the things of the faith should be so important to laypersons that they do the kind of reading and thinking that lead to the formation of a truth-centered world-view that informs the whole of their living. No believer should say that there is no time to do this in his or her "busy schedule."

So true. How often do we tell ourselves we are "too busy" to spend time "with the Lord" (Wait, shouldn't that be always? Thoughts for another posting...)? How many times have I not read even this very book, simply because I was too busy, too tired, too lazy. As a Christian, a desire to read and study and grow closer to the Holy Spirit should pour out from a life of worship, if I were truly living one. In truth, in the (unfortunately few) occasions in which I actually do spend this sort of time (like right now), I love it! I find it to be so spiritually fulfilling! In fact, when I had the opportunity last semester to preach at the Campus House, I found it very interesting that the best part of that whole experience was not the actual sermon delivery, nor any congratulations I received afterward. Instead, I found the Bible study (the deepest personal study I had done to date) to be incredibly rewarding and fascinating.

To take those thoughts a little further, let us first look at another excerpt from Best's book, just a little later in the same chapter:

Another way of stating this is that Christians should be amateur theologians and Scripture specialists, but in the older meaning of the word. Amateurs are those who love something (hence the Latin ama at the beginning of the word), enough to study and practice it as thoroughly as possible, to become skilled in it, without the need to call it a profession or a specialized calling.

Simply analysing this passage is easy; it makes lots of sense as an extension of the previous discussion. However, how might this apply to me, specifically? Well, I am honestly not sure how to take this. I could stretch it one way and say that I need not go into vocational ministry, I should simply be an amateur theologian. However, I am also quite sure that Best does not intend to imply that some people are specifically called into vocational ministry (he in fact says so just sentences later). So where do I fit in here?

For now, my plan will continue to be more or less like it has been, I just now have some new terminology for it: I will continue to become the best amateur theologian I can be, as I also continue my studies in Music Education. In the time between now and graduation (still a year and 4 months), I will seek the Lord's will and find out what he has planned for me.

Thank you Lord for your many blessings, even those we cannot readily see.

5Sep/06

A MusEd Paper vs. The Rest of My Life

So I had a nice long talk with Melissa yesterday. You see, we have this paper due in our MusEd class tomorrow - a paper about our philosophy of music education, it's place in schools, etc. One problem - I'm not sure what my philosophy is! Also, I don't totally agree with the things we're being taught/told in class about the importance of music education - especially when it comes to performance ensembles. Furthermore, I'm not sure of my place in music education, or whether or not my place is even in music education or not.

It was on those subjects that we talked, for essentially two hours. The following are some of my thoughts, after our discussion.

I do not have to agree with everything we are taught. Individual's philosophies will differ; we cannot all be clones of one another. It's not even that I hate music or disagree with everything; quite the opposite. I just take issues with some of the things; for example, I do not find music (in any form) to be as completely essential to a person's well-being and ability to function in society as English (as one article tried to say it is).

Music has a very important place in elementary schools. Kids will never know what they might be talented in or interested in if they are not exposed to many different things. Music, art (visual), P.E., computers, and drama are just some of the areas that kids need exposure to, right alongside "normal" subjects like math, English, literature, history, and science. In middle and especially high school, however, music takes on a bit of a different role. Though most states require a Fine Arts class or some equivalent for graduation, music classes exist almost entirely as electives. Thus, to my mind, they do not have to be truly curricular. Well, performance classes anyway. A non-curricular music theory or general music class will never get anything done; a curriculum is essential here. But I say that performance classes do not need (and in fact cannot function properly with!) a set curriculum.

Now, I am assuming a couple of things here. One, I am assuming that the teacher/instructor/director of these performance classes is doing his/her job well. To run an effective rehearsal and perform well, teaching is still required, even without a curriculum! The students must learn about the pieces they are playing, the historical context surrounding those pieces, the composers' backgrounds, the musical concepts contained within the pieces, and the best methods to perform the pieces effectively. This still requires teaching and learning! I simply believe that a performance class cannot be oriented to a curriculum; it must be oriented to performance.

Stepping back a little further, than, beyond more than simply my philosophy on music in schools, I look at my future. Do I truly see myself teaching band or some other music class in 5 or 10 years? Honestly? Not really... While I still love music and do enjoy helping others enjoy music, I'm just not convinced that it is truly my main passion. Melissa made a good point while suggesting a couple of things for me to think about as far as how to deal with this semester and the major in general. She reminded me that I do, in fact, care about music and music education. Thus, I need to continue to treat it as such. I care about it and it is important to me, so I need to not completely neglect it. I should not get out of the major and the school and immediately pursue something else. I am much too far in at this point to get out, and I am completely capable of finishing this major strongly and, if it comes to it, even being a very good band director and music teacher. This is all very true, and I need to keep it all in mind.

However. (There's always a 'but,' isn't there?) I feel my true passion and calling elsewhere. More specifically, at church. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but that's where I care the most about everything. There have been way too many signs of this over the past year to continue to call them "coincidences." The part of me that is afraid of change wants to ignore all these signs, but I shouldn't. Mark and Alex apparently see potential in me, and I can't honestly say that I don't too. I have been given opportunity and opportunity to serve in many different capacities at church, and I still can't get enough - I love it. I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday. Is that what I want to do with my life, become a preacher? Maybe! I don't think that's my primary area of calling, but it's possible! Frankly, I've seen myself as an Alex (assistant minister, being in charge of music and other like-minded tasks) for quite some time. Like, 6 to 8 months probably.

The church has been given some money to use for student interns. Joel and Jessica are presently serving as interns, and they receive a stipend for their internships. Mark and Alex have mentioned to me that they'd like me to consider doing an internship, very possibly in the spring. This could be part-time as I still attend school and classes, or not. I could take next semester off and work at the church essentially full-time.

You know what, that sounds amazing!

But I have a problem. Well, a couple. I really want to graduate in four years. Partially for cost, and partially because I know I can. Well, frankly, I also can't imagine not staying in the tracks of classes with Melissa. Especially with me less-than-enthusiastic perspective toward it all right now, I need her there. Perhaps that's a lame reason, I don't know; but it's true, I want to stay in track with her. Not just so she doesn't beat me ;-P

Other problem? Dad. He'll have a fit if I tell him I'm considering not taking classes for a semester. Or that I want to graduate with my B.S. (or is it B.A.? who knows) in Music Education and then ignore that degree and either work in ministry or go back to school. There's no way he'd go for any of that. Which is unfortunate, because if that's truly what I'm being called to do, he shouldn't be able to stand in my way. But presently, even if only in my mind, he is. That doesn't seem right.

So, here's where I'm at overall. I still like music and even music education. I'm going to try my best to do well (enough) in my classes, and I still want to get out of them what I can. If they're not my number one priority, that's fine. But I am not going to blow them off or develop a rotten attitude toward them. I am going to talk with Alex at length again about this whole situation and see where we go from here at church. I want to be even more involved. We just have to find the right balance. I am going to pray. A lot. If this is what I am to be doing, I need that to be clear. And lastly, I'm going to hope (well, pray) that once I have reached some sort of conclusive decision on this all, my dad will be receptive and supportive.

Okay, so that post is enormously long. My apologies. But it doesn't even begin to approximate the breadth of our conversation last night... lol... To sum it all up, please pray for me!

3Sep/06

Preaching? Who, me?

Well, I just delivered my first sermon this morning. "Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath," at the Christian Campus House. Pshew, who knew... It's been a bit of a stressful week, juggling school and the "normal" stressors but also dealing with preparing for this. I've never done this before; I've never even delved this deeply in the Scriptures before, at least not in one concentrated amount of time. It was awesome! The Bible studying, alone, was fantastic. So much so that I bought a new Bible to make it easier and more enjoyable! 🙂

The sermon went well, I suppose. A little short (estimated at around 13 minutes; a review of the tape will tell me for sure), but I stayed on topic well (even if that meant that I glaced at my notes a bit more than I should have). Although, I did make up a word this morning: dramastically. :-p

But, here's the crux of this post. Is this any sort of calling for me? Or just something fun to say that I did. Sure, I was a bit stressed out before it; who wouldn't be? I need to think and pray about it a lot more. The Lord may very well be leading me in this direction; I need to not let stress get in His way.

To that end, I continue to be confused. I am struggling, ideologically, in a MusEd class or two, and yet I love the idea of preaching like this. I just don't know what to do.

Anyway, my first (and hopefully not last!) sermon is in the bag. Crazy, isn't it?