This afternoon I attended a small, semi-regular gathering of musicians here in Orange County, in Southern California. Through this group and another small weekly gathering of similar makeup, I’m grateful to get an opportunity to keep in touch with other guys who, in most ways, literally do what I do. Write songs, play and sing, tour, make records (yes, I still call ‘em “records” because I feel some strange need to rebel against referring to everything as a “project”), and often do so in a Church/Christian context.
Usually the fellowship is rich and the conversations are both serious and hilarious by turns. It’s not that what actually happens during these meetings is somehow incidental or unimportant, but for me the first and most powerful takeaway is always the blessed opportunity to feel less alone in what is, in many respects by design, a naturally solitary profession.
Although my livelihood is making music, it’s about much more than just financial success.
To be sure, many aspects of my “gig” are in partnership/collaboration with others. And, as always, the listening audience plays an essential, immeasurable role any time I do something that might be deemed a success. Although my livelihood is making music, it’s about much more than just financial success. There’s also the success of making it worthwhile for an audience to repeatedly give me their attention for 3-4 minutes at a time over the course of an hour or so. Whether that’s ten souls, a couple thousand or more, or a single someone alone with headphones plugged into their smartphone, I’ve had the privilege of trying to do this well for most of my adult life.
Today, one of our dear friends (who, for decades, has been faithful and skilled at his music and you’d likely know him) regaled us with a brief story about a large Christian-themed event he was scheduled to perform at. He arrived early and wandered around in virtual anonymity until the time came for him to be introduced on stage in front of a good-sized crowd. He confessed that he was a little embarrassed to admit that he was so used to and comfortable with being known for and defined by what he did, that he felt awkward and like a “fish out of water” without that identity even for a little while. Trust me here, this is not someone who walks around with an outsized, ego-driven, “Hey, do you know I am?” kind of attitude. He simply asked if any of us had felt that way. I was quick to assure him he was absolutely not alone.
Some years ago, I was single again and trying overly hard to help God help me find a Mate. I had somehow bartered a future concert appearance for a singles group event in exchange for me attending, at no cost, a three-day “Christian Singles Cruise”. I know, I know. Feel free to shake your head for a minute and then rejoin the article if you possibly can.
But on this particular trip, I wasn’t remotely “on the program”. I was a total civilian and my guitar was locked up at home. But I was a man on a mission. I was there to eat recreationally and, if God-willing, hopefully see where “she” might be aboard the ship. (You know, “She”, as in the One for Me!)
It was like a cringe-worthy-bad episode of The Love Boat (Church Edition). There were no websites, no compatibility surveys, no online “mingling” (Christian or otherwise). None of that existed yet. It was just me, with no guitar and no on-the-platform identity. Despite the fact that it’s a little hard to miss me, everyone did. It was kind of horrible.
Not only was I ashamed to admit that I didn’t quite know who I was without a guitar in my hand, but all the events onboard that didn’t involve dining involved dancing.
Not only was I ashamed to admit that I didn’t quite know who I was without a guitar in my hand, but all the events onboard that didn’t involve dining involved dancing. Let be perfectly clear folks, I don’t dance. Whether voluntarily or at gunpoint, I just don’t dance. At junior high school dances, I ran the record player. That’s it. I spun records for the dancers but I could never, ever be one of them.
I had several meals in my little stateroom cell. I was insanely awkward and I was clueless and needy; qualities that any healthy, reasonable woman would run away from at high speed. (For those who might wonder, I’m happy to report that I’m happily remarried since February 2003). God has given me an outcome that couldn’t be more undeserved. And the Lovely Mrs. Bennett does not expect me to dance and sometimes lets me run the “record player” inside my iPhone.
But the true point of dragging you through all of that was the agreement with my dear brother. It’s all too easy for me to traffic in what I do and who people think I might be. I’ve prayed, “Lord, do what You need to do to show me who I am when I’m not holding a guitar.” But that sort of prayer is often only sincere until the moment you think He might actually take you up on it somehow.
These sorts of prayers are akin to the movie scenario I often appeal to when trying to be reasonable about something that I know I will waffle on. The cliché scene opens with a smart but desperate scientist who implores his faithful assistant to securely restrain and lock him in a room. The scientist admonishes, “No matter how much I scream, shout, and beg, do not open that door. I repeat, do not open that door!” There are times when I am sincerely trying to pray Thy Will Be Done, but my inner-scam-artist manages to bedevil me, even though he’s supposed to be mostly dead.
I may have written it before in these pages, but I remind you again that very few of us get up in front of people to perform because we want to be anonymous. We might want to be the “aw-shucks, it was nothing” person, and we sincerely attempt to be as gracious as we can in deflecting attention back to Him who gives all good gifts. But don’t beat yourself up too much if you still find yourself, as I sometimes do, a little habitually reliant on your “Christian Musician” identity. Go home from the gig, take out the trash, and be grateful that Jesus truly knows you as you are and gives you the only identity that really matters: You’re His!