Thursday, October 26, 2017

The New Center for Music and the Arts

It has been just over a week since the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music moved into its new home, the Armerding Center for Music and the Arts. Smiles (albeit tired smiles in some cases) have dominated everyone's faces. Despite the grueling final weeks of packing and preparing and hoping for as seamless a transition as possible, everyone is happy to be settling into the new facilities.

About $30 million and a year of construction has found the Conservatory with twice the amount of instructional space as before, and four times as many restrooms! My boss's office is at least twice the size it was before. We went from two floors to four. Instead of views of parking lots and dumpsters, our windows now give us a view of the quad and the fountain (including some practice room windows). We have dedicated hospitality space. Everything is light and airy and freshly painted and polished.

Last Thursday, the first day of classes in the new building, we had a music major convocation right after lunch in the new Armerding Recital Hall, with faculty and staff present as well as all the students. Our dean, Michael Wilder, gave us some instructions on how to make the most of the new space, and then we sang some hymns. In between, the stage managers adjusted the acoustical curtains, from fully extended (i.e., fully absorbent) to fully retracted (i.e., fully reflective). The difference was astounding as the room resonated with 150 voices singing "When In Our Music God is Glorified." I wish it had been recorded, or maybe actually I don't, because no recording could accurately capture that moment. Students, faculty, and staff alike had tears in their eyes (in mine, too) as we sang "There Is A Redeemer" to close our convocation and listened to voices resound in that space.

Our dedication event is Friday, November 3, at 3pm on the Quad, and is open to the public. But what is even more exciting is that this project is only half finished! Fundraising is well underway for Phase II, the construction of a new 650-seat concert hall with adjacent choral rehearsal hall, joined to Phase I (the new facility I've just described) by a two-story glass atrium. Phase II as also has a price tag of about $30 million, and thanks to an extremely generous anonymous gift earlier this month, we are now almost halfway to that second $30 million. Equally significantly, many of the current music students are contributing of their means to the project. I witness more students every day bringing their contribution envelopes to the administrative suite where I have my office. The dean said at convocation that at this moment "we are at halftime, and we think we're winning!"

I couldn't agree more. It was a little less than 9 years ago, during my sophomore year as a music major, when the $9 million addition to Edman Chapel opened. That project included a new instrumental rehearsal hall, which I was able to enjoy immediately as a member of the Wheaton College Symphonic Band. The first few days in Armerding brought back some of the feelings I had sophomore year - only greatly magnified by the greater scope of the Armerding project and by witnessing the enjoyment of the next generation of music students. These are the young men and women who are training for service in churches, concert halls, and schools around the world, and it is most satisfying to see them settle into their new and improved place of study and training. Come visit and see it for yourself!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

In Memoriam

Ever since the calendar turned to October, I have been thinking a lot about my paternal grandfather, Joseph/Jose' Rubio, from whom my parents gave me my middle name. He passed away ten years ago today. I was just a few weeks into my freshman year at Wheaton College, and I am still moved by the kindness of my new roommate Sam, my new friends (including Naomi, now my wife), and professors who had all just met me, and also by the support from afar from my high school friends (my youth group cohort had a group message on Facebook going for a while during our freshman year at various colleges).

A few random things to share in his memory...

1. This piece I wrote about him four years ago this Christmas.

2. Naomi asked me at dinner the other night what I remembered about him. There is a lot I remember, but one of the first memories that came to mind was from one day when I was perhaps 11 or 12 and accompanying him on some errands. On the way home, he noticed a man selling watermelons off the back of his pickup truck. Knowing that my grandma and I loved watermelon (as does he, and my dad, and, well, everyone I am related to), he pulled over and bought two. Why I remember that so vividly is beyond me.

3. I also remember his funeral, which will have been ten years ago this Wednesday. It was at the Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago. A bagpiper friend of his had approached my dad after hearing of his passing and offered to play for the recessional, to which my dad responded, "He would be honored." And so as my dad and I along with some of my dad's cousins carried the casket from the church following the funeral mass, this gentlemen stood at the curb and played "Amazing Grace." Here is a video of a solo bagpiper doing just that, not the same bagpiper as my grandfather's friend, but the same solo bagpipe voice.

I miss you, Grandpa.

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 MLB Postseason Predictions

My predictions are again this year based loosely on the competing teams' head-to-head records and factoring home field advantage. I still do not have a future as a sports journalist (plus I am quite happy with my current career). But just for fun:

American League Wild Card: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees
Prediction: New York Yankees

National League Wild Card: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks
Prediction: Colorado Rockies

American League Division Series: New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox
Predictions: Cleveland Indians in 4, Boston Red Sox in 4

National League Division Series: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals
Predictions: Los Angeles Dodgers in 5, Chicago Cubs in 5

American League Championship Series: Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians
Prediction: Boston Red Sox in 6

National League Championship Series: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers
Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers in 6
*Yes, it pains me to say that, but that is what my methodology returns

World Series: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers in 7

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Beauty in the Broken

The last week was a difficult one for my colleagues and me at Calvary Memorial Church, and for much of our congregation as well. Two Friday nights ago, Gillian Lundgren, a fifteen-year-old daughter of one of our staff, took her own life. I did not personally know her well, but I did know her, and found the news an utter shock, not least as someone who works with students in my other and previous jobs. Not 36 hours later, our senior pastor, Todd, in a breaking voice shared the news with the congregation during our Sunday services.

Then came Monday morning. It quickly became clear to me that all of our employees, the majority of whom might not even be fully aware when we host memorial services, were not only devastated by this tragedy but already going above and beyond the call of duty to prepare for the Thursday evening visitation and Friday morning memorial service. There was a communal dedication and attention and effort given to this task that I have never before experienced.

Needless to say, all of us dearly wish we would not have had that work to do this past week. On this side of eternity, however, our task is to be the hands and feet of Jesus when (not if) tragedy comes. And I think that is just what we saw this week: the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus energizing our work. It was the Holy Spirit driving our collective accomplishment of hosting over two thousand guests for the visitation and the memorial service, allowing the Lundgren family and hundreds of Gillian and her parents' friends and peers to mourn the loss and yet hope in the promise that she, to quote her obituary, "is now whole and in the presence of her Heavenly Father."

In the midst of this awful tragedy, the grace of God flowed and was manifested in our staff community's rallying to the cause to support our colleague and friend.

This coming Monday will likely be a "normal" day at work for us staff. There will be emails to read and write, meetings to attend, sermons and lessons to prepare, congregants to meet and visit, programs and events to plan, bills to pay, and more. But there's the grace of God in that, too. The grace that redeems our brokenness, sanctifies our work, and enables us to minister to those who are still grieving and to proclaim the power of gospel, bringing the only real hope we have into a dark and broken and yet beloved of God world.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time."
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)