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I Played the Piano Again: An Introspection

Many wise men of antiquity and beyond have warned against introspection, and for good reason. The modern man is weaned on introspection and sustains his post-post modern fervor with it. English departments have introspected so much they can no longer see far enough to read the books in front of them. The trouble is, the man of the Ironic age is specting his intro for the sake of justifying what he finds there. There is, however, such a thing as proper introspection. Proper introspection is objectively critical and mindful of the filth one may find when searching one’s own brain. Also, proper introspection does not last too long before it runs back outside, grasping for clean air. I hope in the following essay—if we ever get there—to introspect critically, succinctly, and properly. 

The other day, Sam Snow asked me the to show him where to find a piano on the campus of our University. Now, if Sam Snow, esteemed secretary for Brandon M. Schneeberger, asks one a question one does not simply “humph” and walk away, or worse yet, ask “why?” No! One complies, so we set our course in a southerly direction and, after a pleasant amble (an activity of which Sam Snow is eminently fond) found ourselves spelunking in the musty basement hallways of McCain Auditorium. As we wound through the maze of music rooms, smelling faintly of slide-grease and the old velvet of instrument cases, I heard the familiar mixed sounds of clarinets, ensembles, and singers floating from the tiny rooms. After a bear of a search and a couple brawls with swarthy tuba players, we found a door marked, “Practice Rooms.” I deposited Mr. Snow into his own room and was about to leave the building when an old temptation struck me. I was faced with one of most alluring of sights I know: a newly tuned piano in an empty practice room. Like my thirteen-year-old self, my sixteen-year-old self, and my twenty-year-old self I could not resist, so I did not resist. I sat down and played the piano again. 

Not to say I have not played for the last few years, but I have not played like that. I secreted myself  away and really tried to remember. I was not playing to impress a living room full of family or to lead a church congregation in song. I was playing honestly, without show, and I found that ‘honest’ does not sound very pretty. My fingers are not as limber or precise as they used to be. Although I can find the keys I used to play, I cannot find them as rhythmically or as confidently as once did. Out of habit I began by pounding out the songs I always play when I sit down at a piano—my pianistic tropes: "The Old Rugged  Cross," "Reverie" by Debussy (I only remember the first page and a half now), and a song or two I have written. When I had finished these I just sat there racking my brain to think of something else to play more interesting than a chord-vamp in the key of D. It upset me that I could not recall even one of the hundreds of songs I have played since I began at age four with Middle C and “Mississippi Hotdog.” After a few moments of uncertainty I reverted to the only thing I could think to play at the moment: the basic elements of piano playing, the scales. I worked my way up and down from C, stumbling terribly in A but performing surprisingly well in B. Of course, I avoided the "sharp" and "flat" scales (though I felt the old shame that in all my years of lessons and practice I had never really learned those dreaded black-key runs). As my fingers moved along, up an down, the confined room began to grow muggy and hot like former practice rooms I had occupied when I warmed up for piano contests or worked out new ditties for my college band. Many of those practice rooms had “fan” switches to circulate air. This one did not, but I played on, enjoying the charged, humid air. 

I have often wondered why God gave me musical talent. I have spent most of my life squandering it with musical slight of hand and short-cuts that allow me side-step technical excellence while producing passable music. Most of my failures come back to scales. I never would practice them enough to make them automatic. The fingering of multi-octave runs would overwhelm me when I practiced and I would quit, thinking, “I’ll move on to more substantial things—real songs.” It was my neglect of the scales and the “grammar” of the piano that held me back in the end. I remember lying on my back directly under the soundboard of our baby-grand piano with my eyes closed listening to my eldest sister Ellen play Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” filled with the emotion of the song, dreaming of playing it the way she did. But I never did. I never mastered the scales. Honestly, I can hardly read the bass clef notes (and never really could). Most of the piano theory I internalized during my formal lessons has been packed away in some inaccessible corner of my brain far from the light of my conscience. In short, when you hear me play the piano you are hearing an instrumental illusionist perform a trick with no real substance to it. It is only recently I stopped fooling me.


Hearing and watching myself play so haltingly and imperfectly was like gazing at a Roman ruin I encountered once while in Schwäbisch Hall Germany; it was just sitting there pathetically, jutting out of the grass in a city park, next to a public restroom. Its beauty was still there, but it had a tragic feel, as if the glory had faded and would not come back without some grand restoration requiring more resources and time than anyone was willing to sacrifice. In the same way, my dilapidated piano skill reminded me of a certain truth I forget on a daily basis: I have not yet reached a state of being. I am, outside of those unchanging promises gifted to me at the moment of my salvation, becoming. I am becoming less skilled at the piano, becoming more blind in my left eye, becoming a skeptic of televisions and the programs they broadcast, becoming more emotional about Sunday sermons than Sunday music, becoming a fierce creature of habit (upset if my car-clock is even four minutes past my accustomed home-departure time of 5:50 AM), becoming more appreciative of the New Earth, becoming more joyful as the LORD opens my eyes to the world as he sees it and the world as he will remake it. My piano playing that day in the practice room was a shadow, and a reminder that someday I will cease to merely become and will be what God forms me.

The happy ending of this little episode has not yet happened, for I have not yet lived it. Someday, if the LORD wills, I will practice the scales. I will practice them until I cannot forget them, and then I will practice them a few times more. I will learn the bass clef; and I will play “Clair De Lune” like my sister played it. I will honor God with the talent he gave me instead of fooling it away on chord charts and cute rhythmic three note patterns. If this does not occur on this Earth it will certainly occur in the next—though then my piano will be on my sailboat. 


R. Eric Tippin
In My Office At Kansas State University
March 3, 2014

Image: "Saxon Sydney-Turner at the Piano"
Oil on Canvas - 1908
Vanessa Bell 


Desire Maker


Strolls with Lewis* while listening to his expositions have the effect of leaving a fellow rather speechless, though greatly in the mood for conversation. Now, if given a moment or two to recover my thoughts and the opportunity to extend the conversation as we rounded bends between the pillared oaks of winter, I would ask his opinion.  

"Mr. Lewis, Could there not be a tendency to over-emphasize the physical when it comes to creation and therefore the speculations about the future re-creation?” 

Assuredly he would be patient enough to allow me to continue without pointing out some historical error in my thinking from that initial question. For, in no way do I mean that people should diminish the physical (past, present, or in the resurrection), but instead they have a distractive sense of focus. Let me say it this way: “For, when one references nature, he is most often thinking in barren isolates rather than in its true nature as a creation of pairs." 

"Just what are these pairs?" he would ask.

I would reply to the effect that their compositions are widely variable, but both parts of these pairs may very well be physical. Their only defining characteristic is that which links them together, the space between desire and fulfillment. This link is the "And" (as Waterdeep writes) and voice of the creator in the creation. The magic is not in the atoms, not even in pairs of atoms, but rather the force between them. Such is the Creator's strain, the harmony of desire and satisfaction.

Does not the Creator make this clear to us in beginning with the naming of animals and ending in the finding of a bride? He carefully places a crescendo in the line of animals along with a ritardando in the creation story so that his movement would not be missed. The flash of his hands could have played the theme, but, as children before his stage, he was willing to slow down to show us what He is about.

However, we no longer attend to His orchestration. I contend that this song is not heard as these forms are most often recognized as naked individualities. An expectable fallacy perhaps, in one sense, as nature (naturalists' nature) really ought to be expected to lack desire, and even, if by some tomfoolery, natural entities were found to desire, they could hardly be expected to have the object of their desire present in the same eon. Statistically, desire with the utmost longing and without the slightest ounce of fulfillment should only be expected. On the other hand, if one is willing to accept the improbable, creation could just as easily be one in which wide ranging resources and potential exist without the slightest need or recognized desire for any of it: fulfillment without the ability to fill anything; every form of Ms. Shephards running about wih nary a school aged Copperfield.  

What people, when stumbling upon the pairings, write off as natural synergism is nothing of the kind. Is it completely natural that a whale wants air? Is it natural that the surface tension of water is not prohibitive? Is it completely natural that a root would want water? Is it completely natural that water exists to fill the root? Is it completely natural for a wood-pecker to want wood to peck? Is it completely natural for wood to be available to peck? Is it natural that a bud under the dirt uses energy from its seed to push upward out of the dark? Is it expected that the sun is waiting to fill its photosynthetic leaves with light? Is it completely natural that I desire nutrients to put into my mouth? Is it natural that nutritiable nutrition is lying about? Is it natural that my heart wavers at a melody? Is it natural that a human's vocal chords can lilt the same? Is it natural that I desire beauty? Is it natural that Eve is before me? I am not talking about the coming together of these things but rather of their miraculous presence independently. As independent they should have stayed. We speak of instinct and never once wonder at the miraculous fulfillment of instinct. If randomness is the creed and biology its outworking, who has played matchmaker. Why can foxes find holes or birds have a place to nest. Why do I thirst and water is not naturally bitter?  

We easily accept the situation and leave off wondering at the presence of the desire/fulfillment combination at all. Sure, one may point to a physical necessity of procreation or environmental sustenance, but that in no way explains such pairings in the light of desire. One may need to eat to live, but why should he not starve happily? Why should life be prolonged with hunger pangs? Once again, pointing out the nerve endings and chemical reaction explains nothing. It is merely the elevator connecting the person on the second floor with the person at the front desk and neither had the slightest part in putting it there. Someone had planned that they might want to meet. 

Without the tuning of our King, there would be no reason to expect desire to appear and even less reason to expect fulfillment at every turn. So much fulfillment and satisfaction, in fact, that the lack of it is noted in the extreme: poverty, hunger, riot, abuse, depression, paralysis, death.  These would not be recognized without the unreasonable expectation of desire and fulfillment. The heart breaking cries to the Matchmaker.

The very fact that these naked individualities are not the experience around us (Made all the more clear by thwarted desire), one may really begin to relish in the prospect of eternity. This, I would argue, is the wonder in the phrase "Christ is superior." For, as I see desire thwarted, desire filled with painful consequences, desire utilizing distraction, I also see fulfillment thwarted, fulfillment lost to painful consequences and fulfillment missed for distraction. More than this, when I tell my dilacerated desires “no,” I find myself saying yes to the superiority of the desire maker. My desires only feel thwarted and unmet because someone has given me these desires and has in mind a fulfillment. Do I then have any doubt what can  be created will be beyond all I could ask or imagine? I didn't ask or imagine that for which I now ask and imagine. Yet, I would fein to act like these desires are mine. It is in this sense then that I mean the senses in the physical are distractive. God created a pair of somethings of which the senses are but one part.  He did not stop at them, he awakened within them Mr. Desire and introduced him to Ms. Satisfaction. Whether he desires to continue to use them in this form or some other for eternity matters little, because every night's rest hints at our inability to know what we desire unless the Word speaks in terms of day and night. I would suggest that little concern need to be given to fulfillment in terms of senses in a new heaven and earth, and, rather, we ought to rest in the existence of desire. Whatever the new creation will contain, we know Him who played the Matchmaker before.

If, in an amazing display of long-suffering, Mr. Lewis* remains on the track beside me, I could see him looking over at me with a wry smile and remarking: "Do you not rather think that He starts His pairings with the fulfillment side first?"


Phillip Tippin
In the tapering snow
Roeland Park, KS 


*or Sam Snow who also ambles

Currier & Ives: Adam Naming the Animals (1847).
From the Library of Congress Digital Collections, LOC #LC-USZC4-2780.


Ambler, No. 1 [On Ambling]

There is all Africa, and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and adventurous piece of nature, which he that studies, wisely learnes in a compendium, what others labour at in a divided piece and endlesse volume. -- Sir Thomas Browne

In the last city I lived, I used to take nightly walks in the cool summer evenings. That is, I used to stroll around my subdivision with a rather aimless purpose about me. The summer evenings, though cool in degree, were usually muggy in feel. But I didn't mind, for it was always a joy to amble around the long line of houses which at first glance always appear so similar but upon review are fantastically unique. Some have porches. (Mine did not). Some have elegant entryways and even more elegant doors of wood with splendid designs carved into them and knockers that may make Scrooge's blush with shame. I had always dreamed that one day I would own a house with an elegant wood door and a gold knocker shaped in the head of lion or some other wild beast. A Nag's Head would suffice if I wished to be ironic about it.

An awkward loneliness themed my walks. For I could not help but muse on the deadening silence of suburban neighborhoods at night, where sewer systems can serve as creeks, and the only sound comes from the distant automobiles cruising around the multi-laned roads surrounding the subdivision. Belloc had wisely said that the internal combustion engine came to destroy the world¹, and I happen to agree. At times those distant automobiles left the multi-laned roads and entered the community of hallowed homes, disturbing the silence and my thoughts. But then they would leave and I would be left alone again. And I would consider how I was surrounded by so many people who had decidedly shut themselves off from the world. And the blue lights which flickered from their homes were only the tiny torches of the tomb modern man had made for himself -- a tomb that took him further and further away from this world.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I remember one evening in particular I was ambling about, staring at the houses I had become so familiar with when a triumphant rumble proceeded from the heavens above me. I had determined not to check the weather before my nightly walks. A young man who wishes to properly amble will do so by taking chances and out of principal. If your word is given, even to yourself, you ought to see that word through. So I did not check the forecast this evening, but proceeded anyways to stroll along the suburban neighborhood that was my current place of residence.

And a triumphant rumble proceeded from the heavens. Now, the odd thing about the heavens is their seeming deception from our point of view. The rumble I heard sounded as if it was right on top of me, but as I lifted mine eyes above me, I saw but stars to the east and south (for I was heading that direction) and a large moon, which, if memory serves correctly, was in the early stages of waning, for it was nearly full, and we had just been blessed with a Supermoon days before. But this waning moon seemed not scared at all at the impending doom which appeared to be coming from the northwest, and I continued my usual sauntering pace, proceeded to check out the houses, and decided to keep on my predetermined route.

But the rumbling continued, and though I was now entering the part of my route that led me home, shelter was at least  a good ten minutes away. So I naturally picked up speed as my heart pumped wildly within me, perhaps picking up on the danger moreso than my wits. I took a decided turn to the west and scrambled onto the last leg of my journey, my favorite part.  To the south was an open field which naturally led a man to an open mind at the time of night. The moon always appeared so much more triumphant over this field, and it was no different tonight. Nevertheless the battle between my safety and the scenery was won by my desire to stay dry, and I pressed on, dismissing the field and facing forward, noticing all the while that as the rumblings above me grew louder so too did the skies to the west grow darker.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It is not merely a modern ideal or temperament that says we are to enjoy the small things in life; it is the entire philosophy of the modern. It is, of course, nothing but ironic that the last thing a modern will take comfort in is the small things. Your nihilistic neighbor will spend ten minutes telling you to enjoy the small things and the next hour planning a trip to Rome. I wish not to get on to the modern about this; it has become his prerogative to contradict himself. And I cannot blame him in this, for his philosophy proclaims meaninglessness in the big things, meaning only the small things can matter, though they too are but matter.

It is only the man who has his head on straight that can properly enjoy the small things. Chesterton has given us a story² concerning two boys who are granted wishes. One wishes to be a giant and see the world, the other to be very small. It is the smaller boy who turns out all right because only he can see the grass beneath his feet as a wild forest. If there is no meaning in the moon there can certainly be no meaning in the milk. And the milk will not satisfy that intuitive feeling inside us that screams for meaning.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The man who is truly relaxed and freed is the man who has once again become a small child. Now, children are constantly doing and learning new things. Thus, they are free to wonder. They are free to be excited about a light switch or terrified by a toad, for they know nothing of how common either are. But the fallacy in the modern is the fallacy in believing wonder and terror are inherently connected to unfamiliarity. Thus, we must try something new in order to be excited when unending excitement lies right by our side. A man may know no one better than his wife; a man may also concede that nothing is so surprising and terrifying as his wife.

Monotony does not breed a dull man. A dull man makes monotony dull. The modern view of monotony is that it cannot breed excitement because it cannot breed surprise. That is, the same town mixed with the same people doing the same things proves that nothing new will ever happen. On the contrary, the fact that the same wild creatures in the same wild town are still saying the same wild things they said the first time I saw them only proves the wildness of monotony. A thing does not become less interesting merely because it occurs more than once. It is, in fact, perhaps more surprising that Uncle Albert always bellows, "A mighty fine meal!" and slaps his belly after family dinners than that he ever thought about not doing the action. His discontinuing of the event would not be surprising; it would be depressing.

The Ambler may be stuck inside the four walls of his suburban subdivision, but the Ambler is also more aware of the wild farce that is his subdivision than anyone else. While the rest of the world is millions of miles away, the Ambler is making rivers out of sewers and tombs out of houses. The Ambler knows which families drink and laugh on the porch at night and which houses seem to always stay dark. The Ambler notices the slightest change in an evening, and though it is true that nothing new every happens in a suburban subdivision, the Ambler is also well aware of the effect few loud rumbles of thunder has on a lad miles away from shelter.


*This essay is the first of many essays under the broader title The Ambler. I have recently been reading two books of essays. The first I began reading was Chesterton's Tremendous Trifles and the second was Samuel Johnson's The Rambler. I hold that good writing is much about imitation, and so I wish to imitate the two men in this series of essays. My editor/secretary/scribe, Sam Snow, is requiring them to be completed by Monday of each week, and so one can expect a new series each Monday. As with any compilation of anything, there need be at least some common thread. I trust that will be fairly obvious in the reading, though I suppose if one wishes to know what the thread is, I would suggest they pick up either of the aforementioned essays. Indeed, reading those two men would be far more beneficial than the ramblings you will find here.

¹Quoted from some essay which I read in his compilation of essays titled A Conversation with a Cat.

²To be found in his first essay "Tremendous Trifles" in his book also titled Tremendous Trifles.

Sam Snow (
In my dilapidated apartment, Manhattan, KS
February 17, 2014

"A Brooding Storm"
Oil on Canvas
John Milne Donald, N.D.


John Buchan the Seer

A certain type of flimsy romantic has been too ready with abuse of a mechanical age, just as a certain type of imaginative writer with a smattering of science has been too gross in his adulation. The machine, when mastered and directed by the human spirit, may lead to a noble enlargement of life. Enterprises which make roads across pathless mountains, collect the waters over a hundred thousand miles to set the desert blossoming, build harbours on harbourless coasts, tame the elements to man's uses—these are the equivalent to-day of the great explorations and adventures of the past. So, too, the patient work of research laboratories, where to the student a new and startling truth may leap at any moment from the void. Those who achieve such things are as much imaginative creators as any poet, as much conquerors as any king. If a man so dominates a machine that it becomes part of him he may thereby pass out of a narrow world to an ampler ether. The true airman is one of the freest of God's creatures, for he has used a machine to carry him beyond the pale of the Machine. He is a creator and not a mechanic, a master and not a slave.

But suppose that science has gained all its major victories, and that there remain only little polishings and adjustments. It has wrested from nature a full provision for human life, so that there is no longer need for long spells of monotonous toil and a bitter struggle for bread. Victory having been won, the impulse to construct has gone. The world has become a huge, dapper, smooth-running mechanism. Would that be the perfecting of civilisation? Would it not rather mean de-civilisation, a loss of the supreme values of life?

In my nightmare I could picture such a world. I assumed—no doubt an impossible assumption—that mankind was as amply provided for as the inmates of a well-managed orphanage. New inventions and a perfecting of transport had caused the whole earth to huddle together. There was no corner of the globe left unexplored and unexploited, no geographical mysteries to fire the imagination. Broad highways crowded with automobiles threaded the remotest lands, and overhead great air-liners carried week-end tourists to the wilds of Africa and Asia. Everywhere there were guest-houses and luxury hotels and wayside camps and filling-stations. What once were the savage tribes of Equatoria and Polynesia were now in reserves as an attraction to trippers, who bought from them curios and holiday mementoes. The globe, too, was full of pleasure-cities where people could escape the rigour of their own climate and enjoy perpetual holiday.

In such a world everyone would have leisure. But everyone would be restless, for there would be no spiritual discipline in life. Some kind of mechanical philosophy of politics would have triumphed, and everybody would have his neat little part in the state machine. Everybody would be comfortable, but since there could be no great demand for intellectual exertion everybody would be also slightly idiotic. Their shallow minds would be easily bored, and therefore unstable. Their life would be largely a quest for amusement. The raffish existence led to-day by certain groups would have become the normal existence of large sections of society.

Some kind of intellectual life no doubt would remain, though the old political disputes would have cancelled each other out, and the world would not have the stimulus of a contest of political ideals, which is, after all, a spiritual thing. Scientists and philosophers would still spin theories about the universe. Art would be in the hands of coteries, and literature dominated by petites chapelles. There would be religion, too, of a kind, in glossy upholstered churches with elaborate music. It would be a feverish, bustling world, self-satisfied and yet malcontent, and under the mask of a riotous life there would be death at the heart. The soil of human nature, which in the Dark Ages lay fallow, would now be worked out. Men would go everywhere and live nowhere; know everything and understand nothing. In the perpetual hurry of life there would be no chance of quiet for the soul. In the tumult of a jazz existence what hope would there be for the still small voices of the prophets and philosophers and poets? A world which claimed to be a triumph of the human personality would in truth have killed that personality In such a bagman's paradise, where life would be rationalised and padded with every material comfort, there would be little satisfaction for the immortal part of man. It would be a new Vanity Fair with Mr. Talkative as the chief figure on the town council. The essence of civilisation lies in man's defiance of an impersonal universe. It makes no difference that a mechanised universe may be his own creation if he allows his handiwork to enslave him. Not for the first time in history have the idols that humanity has shaped for its own ends become its master.


An Excerpt from John Buchan's Memory Hold the Door written in 1940.


The Painted Life