Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dreaming the Work

What did Debbie Allen say at the beginning of "Fame"? Oh yeah...



"Right here is where you start payin'..." and so forth. Good for her.

Has there ever been anything in your life that was exactly the way you thought it was before you experienced it? Was high school or college or a job or a marriage precisely what you had dreamed it would be?

"Of course not" you say. "Stop asking stupid questions" you say. "I could really go for some chips and salsa instead of reading this blog" you think.

But stick with me, here, and put your cravings on hold. I just wanted to tell you all that I've dreamed, daydreamed, fantasized and pondered (ad nauseum) about being a working musician forever. Ever since I was five. It's a little different now than it was then (I don't sing all Elvis songs; the cats aren't my backup band, etc.,) but the gist of the hallucination is the same: I'm spending time playing songs I love.

I already had one dream realized last year, when Mike Roe asked me to play a few shows with him. I doubt he knows how big of a deal this was to me. For the thirteen years previous when I would see him (or his amazing band) in concert, it crossed my mind that it would be so cool if Mike would ask me to play a few songs with him. It turned out that the last time I played with Mike, I played his entire set with him, including this song.

Other dreams have included being the bass player in Wilco (although John Stirrait does a great job), keyboard player for Bob Dylan (he plays his own keys, thank you very much) and opening for The Lost Dogs (I also did that!). Still, it's never quite what you think it's going to be. They say you should never meet your idols or heroes. If you do, you'll soon learn that they are human. It's true, but who's to say that you may not like them more because they are human? Personally, I don't think I'd ever want to meet someone who wouldn't be real, even if it means that they are flawed.

In reality, it's not about doing something cool (refer to previously listed fantasies) but doing something you love. What do I love to do? What do you love to do? If I played with Bob Dylan, would I really love it? It would be cool, and it would be a dream realized, but would I be satisfied?

We pursue education, employment and relationships to fulfill a need to accomplish something for ourselves. It's rarely about other people, to be honest. We might say we want to go into a profession to help people do this or that, but it really is for us to feel something that we wouldn't have felt otherwise. I think a lot of ministers are ministers because they like to feel special, they like the attention and they like the feeling that they get when they help people get closer to God (Trent Reznor not withstanding). Like Phoebe Buffet said, "There is no unselfish deed." I agree.

Still, I do want my music to do what the music I love does for me. I don't really know if it does. I don't think artists really ever get why their music clicks with people. Elvis Presley wondered throughout his life why he was "picked" to be Elvis. Why him? Why George Washington as the first president, why anyone doing something amazing at any particular time? You can't answer that question. Another question you can't answer is "why not me?", and that's a question that I need to give up asking. "Why not me?" to do some of the things I've dreamed of doing? I have no idea.

I'll bet you don't know, either. Why did Van Gogh only sell one painting during his lifetime? Why did Mississippi John Hurt languish in obscurity until he was in his 60's? I'm not comparing myself to these people as great artists, but I'm offering you all some company, just a little, for your misery. Maybe not misery, but your disappointment. The disappointment that the promise you had for yourself (and/or that others had in you) you've never realized. As the bartender says in "Piano Man", "I'm sure I could be a movie star, if I could get out of this place." Watching the video, you see the folly in his dream: he's older, overweight and bald. He could play a bartender (in fact, he could be the guy in the video playing him!), but that's about it. That song is about unrealized and unrequited dreaming and dreamers.

What's great about that song, though, is that the piano man (the singer, the song, the melody, the memories of music) is the balm for the dreamer. People say regarding those who have been ill and have passed away that heaven is the ultimate healing. It's also the ultimate healing for the dreamer, because it's going to be beyond our wildest dreams. Even better than playing in Wilco.

So, it's alright if you never achieve what you thought you would. Age teaches you that. But us dreamers never really give up, even though we should (or should we?). As for us personally, I'm glad we moved, even though it's tough. To me, it's the dreaming that I've always done, the predisposition to do so, that has made me a follower of Jesus, that faith which is what we hope for, that hope for that which is unseen. And whether or not my career in music will be seen (because this remains to be seen), my residence in heaven will be seen because I believe. As a dreamer, as one who hopes, I'm in good company: the group of all of us who have yearned for something more, even if it's not tangible at this moment.

Now it's time for chips and salsa.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Working the Dream, part 3

Another chapter with musings regarding uprooting my life, my family and my career, and moving to pursue music. You are, no doubt, on the edge of your seat, with baited breath, etc., waiting for this next installment.

Cue anti-climax now.

Sure there's been some soul searching. Here's what I've got so far:

1) I don't regret it; I didn't think I would
2) It's a hard adjustment to make (lifestyle, money, etc. have all been significantly impacted)
3) Making connections and networking over a long period of time are how you accomplish things here. I'm not sure if I want to wait that long.

Understand that ministry, as a vocation, is far different from most. You're always "working", although it's really more about who you are than what you do. Your schedule is extremely flexible. I knew this would be drastically altered. I just wasn't sure how much I'd miss it. And, I do. I do miss it. So does my family.

I do not miss not knowing when the other shoe will drop: a criticism coming from seemingly nowhere, people angry at you and you have no idea why, tempest-in-a-teapot controversies that have nothing to do with God, Scripture or why the Church exists. I don't miss that. Neither does my family.

Does the familiarity and the comfort of something make it better for you just because you know it? Most people would say no, but I'm not so sure. Clinging to a spouse, a career or a habit for only the reason that it's the devil you know isn't healthy, but who is to say that being familiar, being comfortable can't be a part of why you stay instead of go.

It can also be a reason why you go. I've heard ministers say they left ministries because they are comfortable, and they feel as though they'll become stagnant if they stay. James tells us, basically, that when God tells us to go, we go. When he says stay, we stay. Our decision making should be wrapped up in His leading, it should emanate from it. My last sermon at FCC was exactly this idea: you move when God moves you.

Here's the thing: our move was easy. Our stay so far has been hard. I believe circumstance can reveal to you what God has in mind, so what would something like this tell you? Does it say that the change was good or bad? When Paul was prevented from going to Rome to visit the church there, he wrote Romans. What does that say to us about God's prevention in our life?

I've never subscribed to extra-Biblical, trite sayings. One that you'll hear about this kind of situation is that when God closes a door, he opens a window. Let me ask you a question: have you ever crawled through a window? As a person well-skilled in locking himself out of the various homes he's lived, and being on the, ahem, larger side of humanity, I will testify that it is not as easy as simply walking through the door. It's hard, uncomfortable, awkward, and probably looks really funny from a distance. In short, if God is giving you a window, it follows that it's not going to be as easy as turning a knob.

So, I think we're crawling through a window. We're getting somewhere, but we're feeling our way. "Through the glass darkly" and all of that. The journey through the open pane is the important part, anyway: It's the part that teaches you not to lock your keys in the house.