Glimpses VII: the blessing of obscurity

I’m a musician. A fairly good one I suppose, if I believe my own press. I’ve had at least nominal success at performing, writing, recording, arranging…the gamut really. It feels good whenever someone notices my ability. Really good. I have learned how to revel in a good compliment without either sidestepping it to the embarrassment of the one offering it or, by contrast, basking in it to the chagrin of those who then have to live with me.

I am (or so I’m led to believe) an Enneagram FOUR. The Individualist. Fours, when describing ourselves, are compelled to do so with more articulation, wit, sophistication and joie de vivre than the last FOUR who just described herself. We have to make a splash, an entrance of swishing haberdashery, groove, and devil may care cool that at once attracts attention but with just a hint of nonchalance to avoid inauthenticity or scorn. That way, we get both the notice of the entrance and the respect in spite of it. I call it the spirituality of swagger. It is the spiritual equivalent of the hip, there-to-be-seen, Starbucks cultural attaché. And it is temptingly indispensable for we artsy types.

Professional music ministry has figured into my journey for a number of years now. And, despite frequent boatloads of stress, they have been a gift beyond all telling. They have not, however, been the shiny, mist-around-the-edges trip to bountiful I’d hoped they might be. Probably for the best since, to know the truth ahead of time would pretty much empty the ministry of other foolish mortals such as I.

Since I’m waxing personal here, I am forced to admit that, rooted deep in much of my early ministry, was ambition pure and simple; a lust for high profile face time (places everyone, jazz hands, show me some sizzle). Of course, I would choose other language to describe it (I’m humbled to use my gifts in praise to God, and yes, I’ll sign that CD). The paid ministry gig would often pose as a front for whatever ambitious projects I was hungrily involved in that might otherwise guarantee even greater notice. In retrospect, ministry, at times, laundered my budding recording-performing career. That’s not to say that I was some kind of narcissistic monster. I performed the tasks of my call to the best of my ability and with as much love to which I was then privy.

While I was busily involving myself in as many satisfying ‘yeses’ as I could, God was pulling back the covers from my spirit, hitherto hidden and insufficiently tended. I was exploring my talent for music, creating, writing and leading alongside of God, insistently laying bare the deep wounds of my soul, a process yet ongoing.

The last few years have been (not entirely unwanted) a descent into obscurity, deconstruction, geographical isolation, and, to quote Henri Nouwen, “downward mobility”…and a boat-load of healing.

This has meant many things; concessions of a sort to the broader context of God’s work on my interior life. For example, I love overcast skies, rain, damp, shiny streets on dark mornings when, jogging, I can see my breath and smell the biosphere.

We live in the desert.

I love to gig and have done so for decades. Yakima has a tiny, struggling Indie music scene barely within anyone’s peripheral vision. I love all things eclectica; the strange, the eccentric, the anything wannabes and the rigorous interplay of opposing cosmo-political entities. We dwell in a town with few international restaurants of note and a rather simple demographic of whites and Hispanics.

I love the jaunty tête-à-tête so readily available in more left-bank Bohemian locales. I live and move among honest, hard-working, conservative, salt-of-the-earth types who could care less about my recent forays into metaphysical ontology, apophatic theology or Dostoevsky (apparently, I’m a socialist, a moniker I only half-heartedly deny). They have served me and my family tirelessly, supporting me in spite of my innumerable eccentricities. That is better than all the fame one can own.

(A few precious friends)>

That which has postured as my life – panting, and out of breath – is slowly giving way to the more subtle, softly glowing embers of God’s gentle fire. I cannot in good conscience suggest that I no longer strive after validation or acclaim. Any shreds of real confidence, lasting relationships and consistency in my life have been attained through profound pain, multiple failures, (I add for emphasis: multiple) and forgottenness. These have been God’s preferred tools in adding leaven to the dough of my expanding soul.

Ambition and notoriety are deadly to the spiritual life. Exaltation is never to be our goal. Jesus promised it only through the more difficult way of humility, a path better defined by wood and nails than monitors and stage make-up. The restfulness and routine of life in obscurity I have embraced these days, gratefully. Nowadays, I’m plenty happy reading, writing or composing in my living room chair than I am anywhere more grandiose. For from here, I can hear…sacred whispers, most of which make no sense to me, but which shadow me everywhere and, rather strangely, guide me. I can honestly say that, this blessing of smallness has revealed the face of God and it is horrifying in its beauty.

Now, I must excuse myself. I need to check my blog stats…; –  ]

12 thoughts on “Glimpses VII: the blessing of obscurity

  1. ha ha 🙂 There is a trick to accepting praise – and being raised to be paranoid about pride, and to apologize for giftedness, as I was, wasn’t quite the right approach. We should be able to humbly but accurately assess our strengths and weaknesses, and enjoy doing things well. The church sure doesn’t do much teaching in this area, does it?

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    1. Melody, as a guy who has experienced much praise for my abilities, this has been a constant battleground. I think you’re right in suggesting that there is a “trick” to accepting praise. On a still deeper level there is a virtue of accepting praise. I’ve been good at the “trick.” The deeper part will be a lifetime of character transformation. Co-pastors Mike Leuken and Kent Carlson wrote a wonderful book entitled “Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation?” I was invited to write a review. You can read that here. They discuss this issue of ambition a great deal, specifically among pastors. Strange how we bitch so much about issues we only think are central to the point of ignoring something as core as this. I believe it is why suffering, loss and obscurity can actually be our best friends since they can corral us into the safer sheep pen of God’s care and our spiritual development and ultimate joy.

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      1. Looks like a book worth reading – great article, too, by the way. We really need to take a good look at what is driving or ‘programming’ and get it snapped back into focus pdq.

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      2. Agreed. It must be done with great love and over time however. People who feel duped or hoodwinked or rushed seldom make good “converts” to anything. It’s happening here at Westminster; gradually, almost glacially, but still in a good direction overall. For that I’m pleased.

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      3. Key being ‘make disciples’, not tickle the ears of mass converts who will fall away when their seed gets snatched away, right? Jesus Himself was pretty choosy, and careful to explain the potential troubles up-front. We know of a group who won’t personally lead anyone to Christ – they have them work it out on their own, and warn them that trouble will follow. They feel that those who truly want ‘in’ even after this spiel are the real deal. Interesting…

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      4. I often wonder whether Jesus was choosy not so much because he saw some as worthy to hear or receive the message and others were not. Perhaps it was their potential receptivity. Anyone of those who, at the time of Jesus’ initial interactions with them, didn’t receive him, may well have done so later. Instead, when the living word is transmitted from him, it will either crack open the eggs that are ready to be cracked or frustrate the hens who don’t have any interest in laying eggs. But those hens are gonna get a rude awakening one day and realize they’ve been pretending something they’re not.

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      5. The only difference is that Jesus KNEW who was ready and who wasn’t – we still need to scatter the seed to all in the hopes that some will find it and ingest it. He wanted true followers, the ‘egg layers’ – rather a new metaphor for me! 🙂

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