Ear Training

November 29, 2011

Yesterday, I strongly suggested that Presbyterians desiring to stay on pitch spiritually and ecclesially should keep their ears attune to God’s Word. This obviously involves study and contemplation of the Scriptures, so that one is familiar both with the tone and harmony of the gospel through the Old and New Testaments. In musical terms, we call this “ear training,” when one is exercised to discern the subtle shifts of pitch, music intervals, and chords. One of my favorite choral teachers put his chorale students through an exhausting exercise during a rehearsal I will never forget. We started with a pitch, and he instructed us to “go up a whole step,” “go down a half step,” and led us through a musical maze. At the end, our pitch was checked by the piano accompanist who had been following along without playing, until the very last note. How close were we? We got to the point where Dr. Ramsey could include shifts of a quarter step, and was still unable to knock us off course. That was fun; and wow, did we develop an ear.

Ear training is required in the Presbyterian Church today if we are to live by our commitment to listen to God and grow in Christ-likeness in harmony with one another. One reliable guide in this exercise through the years has been Terry Schlossberg, a ruling elder from National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D. C.. After over 24 years in prophetic, teaching, and organizational ministry in renewal organizations, Terry retired this month from leadership of the Presbyterian Coalition. I did not want the moment to pass without acknowledging her tireless work which helped us all keep our ear on what God is saying to the church. She has been a role model of tenacity, faithfulness to Christ, humility of spirit, and a powerful intellect captive to the Word of God.

I first met Terry in 1992 when I was a commissioner to the General Assembly in Milwaukee and she was executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life. That was the year a policy statement regarding abortion was presented, amended, and adopted by the Assembly. Though in the Big Picture, the policy was a huge disappointment to those who desired an unfettered pro-life statement, nevertheless, under her leadership, a team of commissioners was able to modify its accommodation to abortion.

Later, when Terry came to work for the Coalition in 2005, she led nation-wide efforts to equip elders and ministers for many debates on the ordination issue. Her weekly email blasts chronicle the careful work she did to analyze issues and proposals and to put in the hands of presbyters the tools needed for effective action at the local level. I for one am grateful for Terry’s service, which had a significant role in my own development as a Christian, an activist, and a leader in my presbytery.

The church would do well to raise up a new generation of saints to carry on Terry’s disciplined work of ear training. As we Presbyterians practice discerning the differences in theological argument, catching the points of divergent from orthodox Christian teaching, and making mid-course corrections back to our biblical roots, we will be living into our heritage as those “Reformed and always needing to be reformed according to the Word of God.”

Tomorrow: an ear training test for Presbyterian “singers.”

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