Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, December 1, 2013

STUFF 2013 your own figure 1-a

Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
I do not know the theme for the Fall 2013 Issue of Youthworker Journal, but was asked to write on the topic of "Creativity," and I have no regular column in that publication.  ;-)
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . .  

Creating Your Own Figure 1A

There are many movies I quote without ever having seen.  In fact, it’s now a point of pride for me with my eldest daughter.  She claims I can’t quote a movie I haven’t seen; I claim I don’t need to see the context to know the meaning.  And now, there are movies I refuse to see on principle . . . Because I am a bad father apparently.

When my daughters get whiney, I say “There’s no crying in baseball,” and both daughters roll their eyes, knowing I’ve never seen that movie.  No one ever asks other questions about these movies because they get my point.  I don’t need to see a movie to quote it, see?  The most ubiquitous example of this is “Chariots of Fire.”  I can say, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run,” and everybody knows what I mean, and nobody ever says “Wasn’t it also great in that movie when . . . “ because apparently there was nothing else that happened in that movie.  It’s a totally safe quote, and--my daughters notwithstanding--I have never been challenged on whether or not I have seen the entire film.  A little slow-motion running and feeling God’s pleasure when you run sums up the movie’s impact on the popular imagination.

In my life as a traveling musician, I most often find myself quoting that line (or paraphrasing it) when someone asks about the spirituality of playing concerts.  My soul is fed over the 90 minutes it takes to play a Lost And Found concert, and the reason is because I am doing what God created me to do.  I am “in my element,” and using all my senses, and connecting to God and people in a very particular and inexplicable way with no idea how it happens.  But the one thing I do know for certain is this:  I feel God’s pleasure when we are playing concerts . . . And I will never watch the movie, “Chariots of Fire.”  So nah.

But the actual act of playing the concerts is just one leg on the three-legged stool of the process.  Most bands, or singer-songwriters have the same three legs on the stool of their craft.  These are Creating, Editing, and Performing.  And each one ties most-directly to a particular audience, I have come to find.

I write because I am driven to write.  I need to do it for myself, and at least in the initial stage it’s because I want to say something.  And sometimes no one else will ever hear that thing because the whole purpose of it was to get it off my chest, as it were.  Once it’s out, I can go back to watching Supernatural, or whatever.

But then comes the editing side.  This is where I take a step back and consider how this little created thing will impact others.  Just because I needed to say it does not mean that anyone else ever needs to hear it, see?  And, usually the thing I needed to say needs to be softened or molded or shortened for the benefit of others.  Not everyone can write another “American Pie,” and it’s possible that no one should ever have written “Stairway to Heaven” . . . at least without some editing.  You edit after writing for the sake of your audience . . . unless you were writing in the 1970’s, which was a magical time, when people could endure unimaginable amounts of sonic pleasure.

And, as I’ve already said, when I perform I feel God’s pleasure.  That’s not why we play concerts, mind you.  (Obviously, playing to empty rooms would get pretty old after a while, even if God were really super pleased by it.)  But it is what keeps me going honestly.  Having that ineffable sense that I am doing what God wants me to be doing when I am playing music drives the bus, to mix metaphors.

I create for myself.  I edit for the people.  And I perform to please God.  You could imagine a chart like this:

(I should tip my hand and admit there will be no other charts.  It just looks more official to have a name like Figure 1-A.)

Now, clearly, these lines do not run straight across at all times, but it’s where the main emphasis is for me.  You could also think of it with the parts being interchangeable.  Pick one from each column and switch them around and you can start to open whole new areas to think about.  I won’t bore you by going through every possible combination (of which there are 27, if my math doesn’t fail me, which it usually does).

Running through those estimated 27 possibilities raises all sorts of new ways of thinking about these processes of writing, editing, and performing.  While the chart as I have it is the basic structure of how I see my little musical world, mixing them up is a helpful reminder that they’re all intertwined and related and somehow combined into one messy whole.

So now you’re thinking, “That’s swell Mr. Piano Man.  But what does it have to do with me and my 6 students meeting in the church basement on Wednesday night, huh?”  I’m glad you asked that, because that was really the point I wanted to get to.

Perhaps you will find drawing up a chart like this will prove helpful in your own little postage stamp of ministry.  For instance, do you feel God’s pleasure when you’re guiding your students through some Bible Study or discussion piece or what have you?  Do you find yourself planning meetings and activities for the sheer pleasure of your own satisfaction in doing so?  And, perhaps most importantly, do you edit to honor your students?  Really consider how what you say will impact them for better or worse?

How does one “edit” for youth-group meetings?  Again, glad you asked.  Because aside from having a chance to use the label “Figure 1-A,” this was what I really wanted to get to in this whole thing.  The creating and the performing are great and all, but I daresay the biggest and most important impact of what anyone does is in the editing.

How many times have you heard someone say something in public that makes you cringe?  Or how many times have you looked back and thought, “I wish I hadn’t said that quite like that” after the fact?  Many times the feeling of regret might just be the signal that you could have used a little editing before “performing.”  Just because you have an idea (the need to create) and you will be leading a time with your youth (performing), doesn’t mean you should skimp on the preparation and reflection (editing).  In fact, quite the opposite:  Though the creation and performing might be the most enjoyable parts of what you do, the editing is probably the most important and crucial part of what you do.

Having a passion for youth ministry will cover you when it comes to creating and performing.  But editing determines the lasting impact you will have on the students who pass through your care in the years ahead.  I encourage you to think through what you’re saying and doing.  Work toward “Sounds of Silence,” and away from, say, Rush’s “Xanadu.”  Your words will be the hooks that your students will hang their theology on, at least for now.  I encourage you to make them the best words you can find.  And remember, the hills are alive with the sound of music.  ;-)

George Baum is exactly one half of the band Lost And Found (  He is the father of two, the husband of one, and is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Ohio, which is a whole ‘nother story.

No comments:

Post a Comment