Sharing unfinished stories

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A couple days ago as I sat playing guitar in the shop, a young man asked me where he could see me play. The answer was nowhere. He pressed. So I shared my story. All of it. From the naive young man traipsing off to college with dreams of being a singer/songwriter to the bitter young man who was sure he had no place in that world. And then on to the present, where I’m doing it anyway.

It was in the midst of this conversation that he challenged me. He shared his own belief in the power of stories, and he encouraged me to share mine. Video the journey, he said. Anytime you play here at the shop, record it. Then post it. Now, I won’t say I’m going to follow his recommendations. I don’t know. But I’m considering it, and those are words I never believed I would utter.

It’s not for the audience and it’s not for the platform. It is the power of a story to inspire, challenge, and transform. I remember growing up surrounded by the finished product. I read published books. I listened to albums from my favorite artists. I stood in awe before works of art in every field. I saw the end product. I saw the destination, but I never made the connection that each of these pieces had a journey. I never knew the journey took their creator through pain, hardship, struggle and disappointment. I never knew the journey shaped their creator into someone capable of creating a masterpiece. I never knew of rough drafts, endless edits and sheets of lyrics with scribbled lines and cramped script crowding the margins. While not knowing made their work magical, it also made me look on my own work with disdain.

Obviously, I learned the truth in time. I simply wish I would have seen and understood it sooner. Even more so, that someone would have shown it to me. So I have something to think about. This is an opportunity to show someone else the journey, and maybe give them the courage to start their own.

 

A Different Kind of Success

As I write, my eleven and a half hour double is drawing to a close. I sit here thankful for such freedom. One of the privileges of coffee shop life is time. At least it is here. It’s not difficult to weave creative play into the dance of cleaning and customers. And on occasion, as happened today, I am reminded just how precious and rare this gift of time is.

This year marks year two of what I hope will be a longstanding tradition at Qahwa. We, and a few of our customers, decorate the shop with milk jug jack o’ lanterns, jug o’ lanterns for short. What begins earlier in the month always ends in a mad dash to finish before Halloween. So between each and every customer, I took up sharpie and brush pen and went to work. Somewhere in the play we fell into quoting Monty Python. With that first slip, several amused eyes looked our way. I can’t help but think they wanted nothing more than to drop what they were doing, leave their work, and join us.

That small moment reminded me just how lucky I am to work in a field, and in a place, that gives me such freedom. Time to create. Time to draw. Time to play guitar. Time to study. Time to write. Time to grow in the fields that bring me the most joy, and people to share it with. I hope the money will follow in time, but, as I think on my past, as I think on cubicle world, I am reminded that having more never gave me this much satisfaction.

I think it a worthwhile endeavor to seek success. I just hope that I never forget what I experienced today is also a mark of success.

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Today’s Monty Python Holy Grail inspired jug ‘o lanterns.

Freed to Lead

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Last Sunday I had the chance to visit with an old friend at the church I’ve been attending. He asked me about my former church, not realizing at least four years have passed since I served there. I confessed I had been mostly out of church for the past few years. I don’t know if a question prompted me or he asked, but I answered.

Why?

I mentioned frustration had been growing even before work made it difficult to attend, and as my mouth began moving on its own I recounted struggles I’d forgotten. Maybe I’d deliberately set them aside once that door was closed. I don’t know. But I think they hold important lessons for leaders, and quite possibly for me as well. Things I was blinded to at the time.

At the time, I sang on the worship team. We had two recurring discussions that often left us commiserating after a weekly rehearsal. Our anger was not with our leaders, but on their behalf. You see, both issues stemmed from a pastoral leadership that left them no room to do what they were hired and gifted to do.

The first, and possibly easiest to deal with, was a lack of flexibility in time allotted to worship in music. At that time, we simply felt there was little room for leaders to sense and respond to leading of the Spirit. A dark look or, in worst case, a deliberate interruption awaited any deviation from the schedule. When I consider logistics of two services, I get the need to adhere to a tighter schedule. My thought on the matter remains the same – schedule flexibility. If you need forty five minutes to transition between services, why not schedule an hour so there is room for a little extra? We talk about leaving room in our personal schedules and our finances. Are we doing the same thing with our services?

The second I consider to be far more significant. The creative reins were tight. Song choices had to be approved, and no music written by the worship leaders could be used. The lack of trust chafed those who’d been tasked with leading musically. We, who worked with them, could see it wearing them down. And as often happens with suppressed or unappreciated talent some began to consider leaving. All the while, the church became poorer for the continued distrust.

There is plenty of material out there for leaders in this situation. I hope that today I might entreat any leaders who read this to have a care in how they handle those who serve with them. If you feel you need to exercise this kind of control, then one of two things is true. Either you’re operating out of fear and/or arrogance, or the person you’ve hired is not suited for the position. In both cases the appropriate response is uncomfortable. Self reflection is painful, and so is firing someone. That said, letting it continue is always more destructive in the end.

That said, trust is transforming. You’re support will free you’re leaders to lead in the fullness of their gifts. Gifts God has given them to serve the body. More than anything, I ask that you invite them to the table as equals. Let them challenge you. They are brothers, sisters, and fellow servants with a unique perspective that God endowed them with and that the church needs.