Choose to Learn a New Song

Ever step outside and listen to a songbird sing?

Did it remind you there is beauty in your world?

Did you know that within that tiny birdbrain new songs are created each year? Or were you like me and just assumed they sang the same ones over and over, hardwired according to their species?

They don’t.

Bird specialist Fernando Nottebohm first discovered this in the 1980s. In the book The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge, M.D., writes, “He [Nottebohm] examined their brains and found that every year, during the season when the birds do the most singing, they grow new brain cells in the area of the brain responsible for song learning.”

Nottebohm’s findings had scientists scurrying to dig out all the research they’d buried over the decades, scoffing that human brains were capable of regeneration.

Certainly, we all agree how malleable the brain is for its good and its bad. 

Yet, we have to realize the similarities, even symbolically, to Nottebohm’s documentation that there are two kinds of vocal learners:

  1. Sensitive period learners that learn their song before sexual maturity
  2. Open-ended learners that learn new songs in adulthood

From your childhood, some of you may sing a song of hope, others a song of discord. Time and circumstances in your adult years may have changed your tune or let it remain the same–for better or worse.

So how can we change our song for beauty’s sake, for the sake of peace and love that’s lasting in our lives and others?

Last Friday as I packed for a weekend getaway with Bill, I turned on the television. Instead of Jeopardy, I got Tragedy–horrific and horrendous. Like many of you, I stood in front of the television and wept for the lives lost, as well as for every child, teenager and adult who had to witness the atrocities and recover their lives in the midst and memories  of death.

The power of mass media alerted millions of us, allowing us to join in prayer with unknown masses. Our gasps and our muddled minds proved how unfathomable it was. Yet, we had to whisper our prayers in hope, in faith, that we were joining together to fight through the forces of evil.

Unlike the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, a natural disaster, the Sandy Hook Elementary School was struck by one twenty-year-old boy(?), surely not a man in his right mind. But was he one who had a choice mentally? Was his brain malfunctioning because of his environment, choices of others and/or his? Or was he at the mercy of a tormented mind whose wiring had always been faulty?

I don’t know. All I know is that I wanted to get in my car and drive the hour drive to pick-up our four grandchildren and simply hold them. I wanted to call my daughter and daughter-in-law, only to reason they both had a baby and toddler at home. I couldn’t cry with them. They had to be, or at least appear, strong for that child’s well-being.

Throughout the day, I envisioned friends who are teachers and school administrators.

Did they know? Were they masking their horror to keep a semblance of safety for the innocent in their care?

Many of you right now are holding it together, convincing others they are safe, while wondering yourself, “Are we safe?”

With this now ever on our minds, we have to regenerate and learn new songs, songs that ring out through the darkness with hope and healing. And like our feathered friends, we have to use our voices to send out songs of warning from heightening discernment.

We re-write stronger lyrics to caution against addictive behaviors that end in destruction, but most especially against those negative voices whose subliminal powers blind.

Can we really sing “God Bless America” while we choose to invest in songs, movies, games and activities that delve into violent and profane behavior, negatively affecting  minds and spirits?

We’re deceived if we think we can.

Yet, how often have I kept silent to not tread upon others free rights?

But aren’t the violations inflicted by the violent who live in its realms also robbing us of our freedoms?

This week, only a few miles from where I live, a twelve-year-old was violently raped by a man who had already been convicted as a sex offender, released early. The newspaper revealed his perverse spirit, fed by a fast-paced perverse society. His being out-of-control  and out on parole staggered the lives of a child and her mother for a lifetime.

That’s why we have to learn a new song, one that is in harmony for its strength and one that rings out in solo when a truth must be shared.

We must learn effective how to’s so we can teach others and protect those noble rights.

Yet, I know I simply can’t do it in my own strength. I’ve tried and failed too many times. It’s only through God: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13) “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.” (Psalm 40:3)

Let us pay attention to pain

Weeks ago I heard theologian Dr. Ravi Zacharias share the story of a twelve-year-old girl in the Atlanta area who has CIPA, a rare congenital insensitivity to pain. The child could put her arm on a hot stovetop and never realize it because she can’t feel pain. Zacharias reminded that pain is an indicator of something wrong, usually physically, but, in Friday’s case, also emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. Zacharias continued, “We need to take care of our environment, but we fail to realize our in-vironment. Ugliness within ultimately produces ugliness without.”

I read that CIPA is rare with only about one hundred people having it. What’s not rare are the increasing numbers of people who are insensitive and uncaring in their destruction to other’s lives. Maybe their lives weren’t valued, so they had no reason to value others’.

Let us recognize we’re not alone

Yesterday, Bill and I received our annual newsletter from our dear friends, Steve and Nina Floyd. I expected to read a summary of their Fab-5 grandchildren and possibly a bit about their recent trip to San Francisco. Instead Steve broke from his previously written greeting to share his response to Friday’s shootings. Steve’s years as an elementary school principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent of school districts into his final years in higher education had him particularly sensitive to Friday’s nightmare.

I can attest that Steve not only excelled as an administrator, but he also developed as a caring guardian over his students and teachers. He has heart, evidenced even in his retirement years as he travels each week to Children’s Hospital and his grandchildren’s classes to read to them, continuing as a strong fatherly/grandfatherly role model for young ones.

With his permission, I share part of what he wrote. I know when I read it, I didn’t feel as isolated in my grief.

“I can only imagine what the faculty and staff went through as they heroically did what they could to protect their children . . . . Hopefully, our nation will not let this awful event fade into the backgrounds of our memories. Surely, we can use the memory of the lives lost to motivate us to address the factors in our culture that facilitate this kind of behavior.

I believe the answer is to understand that we live in a world full of darkness. At this time of year, we celebrate the birth of the Son of God who brought, and continues to bring, light into the darkness.

Max Lucado wrote the following prayer yesterday:

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Our world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.


Your Children

Let us choose to sing a new song, a better song, a stronger song this season. 

Let us teach others who need wise men and women: Joy to the World, the Lord has come. Come on all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Let heaven and nature sing.

Merry Christmas. May His holy light emanate through each of us as we maneuver up and down our paths, sometimes alongside one another, sometimes apart. The Good News is we don’t ever have to be hopelessly apart.

For a glimpse of God’s beauty, scroll through National Geographic’s photographs of songbirds.


One thought on “Choose to Learn a New Song

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