Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Adjective That
Dare Not Speak Its Name

Several years ago my Wife and I were at an Emergent Church Conference. (For those not fluent in Churchianity-speak, "emergent" is the catch-all term for a large cadre of people trying to figure out what comes next in Christian Faith and practice. Oftentimes that can be quite helpful, other times it seems a heartfelt but misguided effort to redefine terms. It's one thing to gussy up the terminology, it's quite another to do it for real and and to do it well. If we're just trying to re-brand apples by convincing people they're really oranges, what's the point?. But that's a whole 'nother blog post.)

Anyway, eventually we gathered at a General Session where a well-known author was scheduled to speak. As is customary in most of these Christian-themed conference meetings, there was a young team of musicians leading worship/congregational singing. These were young, earnest guys. Not my cup of musical tea, but I expect I wasn't their target audience anyway. As they were working through their set list they were commenting between songs. ("Sharing".) These were encouragements to focus, surrender, join in with the Community, etc. All good and standard issue as far it goes.

But then one of them announced, "We just want to be authentic."

I turned to my Wife and said, "You know, the minute you announce you want to be authentic, that's sort of the ball game. You've sort of tainted the deal and there's no turning back." Now why would I nitpick such a noble and practical goal?

In large measure I blame my generation, the Boomers, for this sort of "over-sharing". We announce, pronounce, and proclaim. We love to hear the sound of our own voices. But we mistake assigning language to a concept and agreeing with that concept for the actual doing of the thing. (Longtime listeners will note that I just cribbed a phrase from one of my own song lyrics. In my defense, I would only point out that I waited three full blog postings before I indulged in that kind of self-referential behavior.)

What I'm getting at is the difficult line between what you want to proclaim about yourself, your work, your goals versus things that you might want to simply do without much comment or grandstanding. It really is best to let others draw conclusions about your authenticity, reputation, quality of your work, etc. All of that can, and should, be part of your Mission Statement … but perhaps internalized and not spelled out for public consumption or announcement.

Maybe I'm being too cautious or, God help me, sanctimonious. But I truly mean no harm. I simply think that "incarnating" our values is a lot more effective and persuasive than talking about them alone.

Oh, how guilty I have been here. Maybe that's the "ouch" I'm passing along to you now. But for all the necessary verbiage we must employ … I'm a songwriter for goodness' sake … whenever possible, I would rather "put up AND shut up". Trying to encourage a true humility is probably suspect by definition. But I trust you to sort out what I'm trying to get at even if I'm doing it rather clumsily.

My pal Michael Card had a dear friend and mentor who I had the pleasure of meeting when we toured together in 1990-91. Dr. William Lane once told Michael, in response to his frustrations with the Christian Music Business: "Let the excellence of your work be your protest."

Your protest, your proclamation, your calling card, your identity. The "excellence of your work" should be the ultimate unspoken adjective that leaves the issue of your authenticity in the hands of others ... where it truly belongs.


Jim K. said...

Thanks Bob, I think I needed to read this today.


Jim K.

David C. Maguire said...

I am trying to imagine anyone wishing to be "inauthentic." :-\

Master Bube said...

So happy you are blogging. I look forward to what is to come.

MarkL said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Bob, and please allow me to share an account of a meeting with you in which I came away greatly appreciating your authenticity, because of what you did and not what you said.

Best I can recall, this was in the early 1990's. A so-called "Christian Night Club" had started up in the Washington D.C. area, and they booked you for a couple nights performance, I believe. On arriving at the club, we were told by the night club owner that the concert was being cancelled because he didn't sell enough tickets for the second night to make it worth his while. So he was going to refund us our money, and that was that. There would be no performance.

Of course we were quite disappointed. We were fans of your music, not just because it sounded good, but because of what it did for us, and we were really looking forward to enjoying your music live.

There was a group of maybe 15-20 of us there, looking disappointed, and you told us that you'd do what you could do to make the concert happen anyway. You called the hotel where you were staying (Holiday Inn in Greenbelt, MD, I think), and they let you use one of their meeting rooms. So we all gathered there and enjoyed a private concert from you, as we pulled up chairs in a tight circle around you-- a far better experience than sitting in a club and watching you up there on a stage. The group was firing requests at you and you were doing every one of them (except Mountain Cathedrals, because on top of everything else you were performing with a head cold, and you said you just couldn't hit the high notes in that song).

What you did spoke volumes to me about your authenticity as a writer and singer of Christian songs. I knew you were no mere "performer", and I hope that we as a group sufficiently expressed our thanks to you. Honestly, I felt at the time like it bordered on abuse, as you were sitting there, suffering from a head cold, belting out tunes, and everyone was firing requests at you with the final chord of the previous song still reverberating in our ears.

I assumed you weren't paid for what you did for us (else, why did the owner refund us our money?). You were more of a "victim" than we were of the owner's decision, and it wasn't your problem to fix, as the world sees it. But you saw some disappointed fans, and you took the initiative to find a way to make it good for us. And I still remember it approximately 20 years later.

I know you didn't want to call attention to yourself with this post, but I think what you did that night is a great example of what you're talking about. The authentic person is the one who takes responsibility for what he sees around him; not because it's his fault or because some legal code says he has to, but because he knows who he is, that he was created for a purpose, that the light shining in him belongs in a sense to those placed in his path, and he is called to give his fellow-servants their portion as he is able.

Anonymous said...

Had a dear friend recommend I read your blog. Great insight, your reference to Dr. Craig's quote floored me.
I appreciate your "authenticity" :)