Friday, March 30, 2012

Everything I Needed to Know about Denying Myself...

I learned from being a bass player.


Okay, maybe not everything. But more than you might think.

Ever heard the old “knock-knock” joke about bass players? You know, the one that goes, “How can you tell when a bass player is knocking on your door?” And the answer, fiendish in its cleverness: “Because he keeps speeding up!” (Insert knee-slapping, loud-guffawing response here, to encourage all the smug lead guitarists whose life ambition is to keep this joke in circulation.)

But the photo-meme in this post is more accurate than not:
  • If there is a timing problem, the traditional response is “blame the bass player.”
  • Keyboard players love to write complex symphonic arrangements that have both of their hands racing up and down (sometimes multiple) keyboards, all the while saying to the bassist, “Uh, could you just do whole notes or something?”
  • Lead guitarists complain that the bassist is “too busy”, even as they wipe blood and smoke damage off their fretboard from their latest string-stretching pyrotechnics.
    • Ever notice that nobody ever tells a keyboardist or lead guitarist: “less is more, dude”?
  • When you’re the bass player, you quickly learn that all the attention goes to the drummer. Or the lead guitarist. Maybe the hunky/gorgeous lead singer. In a pinch, the keyboardist. You get to load the gear.
  • Typically, we tend to retreat to the Lost Island of Other Bass Players, comforting ourselves with the knowledge that Geddy, Victor, or Chris would appreciate our contribution.
But seriously, folks...
It’s all about denying yourself. (Luke 9:23)
What makes a good bass player an asset to the band is their willingness (if they’re mature enough to recognize this) to serve the song, to serve the band, and to serve their band-mates.

Sometimes, that really does mean playing a minimum of notes, if the song works best that way. You don’t insist on being noticed.

And by letting the lead guitarist or keyboardist or even the drummer have the spotlight, you are allowing others to shine, while you provide the foundation for their talents to fly.

By loading the gear, while the other more prominent members of the band are signing autographs or being talked up by fans, promoters, etc., you are contributing to the mental health of the band (if you think it’s not exhausting talking to people endlessly about the same things, night after night, and then having to pack up later...)

And seriously, if the problem with the timing was your fault, own it. Crack a joke. Be the peace-keeper and set a good example of what grace under criticism pressure looks like.

And if you can do all of this without developing a smug martyrdom complex, you’ll be on the right track. :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Finding Your Voice

When I first saw this picture, it brought a smile to my face. The original caption (in the version I first saw) read: "Do one brave thing today -- then run!".

For some reason, I identified with the foolhardiness boldness of the little penguin daring to wake to sleeping giant. The little guy who, against all odds and conventional wisdom -- and quite possibly, self-preservation -- dares to disturb the status quo.

Except that, in the real world, running away isn't usually an option. If you're going to clang those cymbals, you'd better be prepared for dealing with what wakes up.


And if there's anywhere that is ripe for finding things to clang cymbals about, it's the Internet. The good news and the bad news of all things online: everyone and anyone can make their thoughts and opinions known for the world to see. And social media, in all its forms, spreads it even farther and faster.

And as the oft-posted cartoon at right illustrates, there is a nefarious trap involved when it comes to reacting to issues, opinions, and other cymbal-clanging events: a black hole of time-consuming, life-numbing, grace-stealing, crazy-making addiction.

I come across other blogs and websites, with some degree of regularity, that provoke a desire to respond. Usually, it's people playing fast and loose with the facts, or twisting Scripture to advance their own agendas.

And each time, I am faced with the same decision: What kind of voice do I want to have? It's one thing to clang cymbals over worthy issues, and completely another to be the kind of clanging cymbal that we are warned about in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."
Remember the old phrase, "Better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness"?
When I put the thought behind this saying together with the penguin-with-cymbals image, and mix in the admonishment of Corinthians, it becomes a reminder, an encouragement, and a challenge to me, as a writer.

What kind of voice do I want to have?

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Marathon

We were the dreamers, the boys on the wild frontier
The new believers with nothing in the world to fear
We had discovered the treasure of the love and the grace of God
And it burned like a fire in our hearts, and we would...

Throw back our heads and run with passion
Through the fields of forgiveness and grace
We carried the eternal flame
With an undying hope and a blazing conviction
Of a truth that would never fade
(Children of the Burning Heart, Steven Curtis Chapman)
The song lyric quoted above was recommended to me by my best friend since high school, Patrick Thomas Prowse. Pat says it reminds him of us when we were teenagers.

Originally, there were three of us, a triumvirate of adrenaline and chaos, and the song lyric does pretty accurately describe us, in our energetic (and admittedly imperfect) "stumbling heaven-ward" zeal.

We made a ton of mistakes, of course, but we grew a lot (iron sharpening iron), and challenged, encouraged, and supported each other through thick and thin.

And somehow, between the three of us, kept at least one of our junked automobiles in running condition at least part of the time. And listened to a lot of Resurrection Band at deaf-defying volumes.

Of course, by naming my buddy Pat and not naming the other third of the Three Amigos, you've probably already guessed where this is going, and you're absolutely correct: only two-thirds of the original threesome would still call ourselves "Christian" today.


All three of us have been through the good, the bad, and the ugly in life, albeit not all in the same way. But each of us has had our fair share of butt-kicking, confidence-shaking, faith-rattling things happen to us.

And really, who hasn't? Life, this side of the Kingdom coming in its fullness, can go seriously sideways at times. And when that happens, not everyone's faith survives. In fact, if this was a poker game, and I were a betting man, I'd wager that everyone who has read this far has felt a twinge of grief about a friend or family member who has cashed in their Jesus chips (or is that taking the poker metaphor too far?).

I find the Apostle Paul to be a great source of encouragement here. Paul's life in ministry had some incredible highs and some dismal lows. His "resumé of pain" is, frankly, a lot worse than anything I've been through: beatings, imprisonment, flogging (multiple), shipwrecks, people attempting to kill him, etc. The short version is found in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Reading it usually gives me perspective.

And yet near the end of his life, Paul sums up all that he'd been through -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- with these simple, profound and powerful words:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)

Paul didn't bask in the glow of his many accomplishments as a missionary and church-planter (and writer of Scripture, although he probably didn't realize it at the time). Neither did he bemoan his many painful experiences (although he was pretty candid about them).

He fought.

He finished.

And he kept the faith.

In this spiritual marathon, my hope is to be able to say the same.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Gloating Games

The much-anticipated movie The Hunger Games has just been released, and everyone who loved the book is hoping that the movie does it justice. That would include my entire family, who shoved a copy of the book into my hands earlier this week with the not-to-be-ignored instructions to make sure I'd read the whole thing before this weekend. (Which I've done, just so it's been said.)

The book is a quick, entertaining read, and the social commentary -- on wealth/power/poverty and Western society's delight in being entertained by the misery of others -- is something I also hope comes across loud and clear in the movie version.


Also in the news this week was the very disturbing public meltdown of Jason Russell, the director of the viral sensation Kony2012. The Twitterverse lit up like a 4rth of July fireworks display, and the word "gloat" doesn't even begin to describe the gorge-fest of acrimonious delight that resulted from the news of his breakdown.
(Disclaimer: I am not commenting on any concerns surrounding the Kony2012 phenomena itself. That's a separate issue entirely.)
Regardless of where you stand on the Kony2012 film itself, I can't help but wonder how many people will flock to see The Hunger Games over this weekend, and yet not see any parallels between the movie's message -- the grotesqueness of being entertained by the degradation and dehumanization of others -- and the vicious glee exhibited over Jason Russell's meltdown.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Location

“You need to get out of the house, and write someplace else,” Wendy suggested recently. “You need to be around people, out in public, even as you’re trying to get some writing done.”

And she’s right, of course.


The last thing I need would be to find myself toiling away in seclusion, a scribe bent over his parchment, clutching a quill with an iron grip, in a forgotten hermitage lost down some little-used trail deep in a forest somewhere.

On Mars.

No, I need to be in the midst of the bustle, the energy, and the unpredictability of the marketplace. It’s better for creativity, inspiration, and it gives me the unique opportunity to have multiple “offices” around town, where I do my writing.

And it’s already paid off: the very first post here was written (quite deliberately) at our local airport.

And it’s true what REALTORS® always say: “Location, location, location.” (And yes, it’s equally true that they do say this, all the time.)


My favorite writing haunt so far has to be the Lake Country Coffeehouse, where this post is taking shape. With all the accoutrements of a serious blogger/writer in place -- a steaming americano, my Macbook, the wedge-shaped “worker’s cap” on my head, and even my “Geek Wear” glasses (with line-less progressive lenses) perched on my nose -- everything about my current situation absolutely screams “CLICHÉD ARTISTIC MIDDLE-AGED TREND-OID!!"

Hey, it is what it is, and I am what I am.
Ah, the young guy at the next table is packing up his gear. He leaves just in the nick of time for me to slide gracefully and nonchalantly into his place, so I can plug in my laptop before the battery goes into hibernation. God is good.
Sitting at a weathered wooden table, in a butcher-shop-renovated-into-coffeeshop in the Okanagan Valley, feels like a different planet compared to the sights, smells, noise, and vibe of living in the Los Delfines fraccionmente in southwest Tijuana. Likewise, saying "I'm a writer in Canada" is worlds apart from "I do the roofing on houses for the poor in Mexico". But I guess I'll get used to it.


green push-pin = our former rental house in Tijuana

Speaking of "location", I had no sooner written the above paragraph when another REALTOR® that I know came in, spotted me, and joined me with his latte.

"I read your old blog back when it was still online," he said, when he saw what I was doing. "And I thought to myself, 'what is this guy doing in real estate?' Clearly, you're a writer."

Okay, okay, enough already. I get it. :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Power of Focus

Ever had one of those “Balaam’s Ass” moments? You know, where God speaks to you through some of the most unlikely and unexpected ways?

I definitely had one of those moments when I started reading The Power of Focus recently. The glistening irony is that the book was a gift from the managers of the Real Estate Brokerage that I was just about to quit working for.

Yes, I said “Real Estate Brokerage”. As in, I was working as a REALTOR®. Except that I was about to quit.

Perhaps I should start from the beginning.

Shortly after returning from Mexico last year, I enrolled in the Real Estate Licensing course through the University of British Columbia. The idea was to start a new career that would actually put money IN the bank for us, so that we could address a short-fall in our monthly missionary support that was slowly but surely eroding our house equity.

It was a risk, a gamble for our future, to re-invent myself as a REALTOR®. (It also required a new wardrobe.) We understood that, right from the beginning. And we knew that the current market conditions were, to quote Les Nessman of WKRP, “sucking canal water”. We knew that I needed to be focused.

And so, after nine years of blogging, I decided to create an exit strategy, and wrote two months’ worth of posts to bring robbymac.org to the kind of conclusion that I could be satisfied with.
Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even blogging.
All of the background reading and research that I had been doing for writing on The Kingdom of God (a sort-of follow-up to Post-Charismatic?) was consigned to several thick binders and shelved in a remote storage closet.
Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even writing.
My guitars languished in their cases, lonely and abandoned, as the tubes in my amplifiers clouded over in the dust of neglect.
Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even music.
I was focused. I had ruthlessly cut out all the most likely distractions to my new career. Everyone “in the business” knew how tough things were. Weekly sales meetings reinforced the seriousness of the current economic situation in Canada. That’s why our managers gave each of us, at the beginning of 2012, a copy of The Power of Focus.

Ironically, this book functioned as a sort of "Balaam's Ass" that would lead to my decision to quit being a REALTOR®.

To be sure, there were outside factors involved:
  1. my (glaring) lack of experience in sales
  2. in our city, I am virtually unknown, which means no connections
  3. the kicker: we simply ran out of money to invest in my being in the business, and therefore
  4. instead of reducing our debt, I had only managed to dig the hole deeper (oops)
But as I read the first few chapters of this book, I was faced with this question: “What are you naturally brilliant at?” And by 'brilliant', the authors simply meant:
  1. what are you naturally good at, where even with just a minimum of effort, people take notice of your gifts, and
  2. if you invest the additional effort to hone these natural abilities, you can fairly easily become quite proficient -- even professional -- in these areas
And, in language reminiscent of Strength Finders 2.0, the authors strongly recommend being focused on your areas of giftedness and natural ability, versus the common strategy of working your patookus off, trying to improve your areas of weakness. (Resulting in that you suck a little less in those areas of weakness, while your strengths go undeveloped.)


Forthwith, this sorely vexed me, and lo, I was indeed greatly wroth.

I had just put away all the things that I was most passionate about, and naturally gifted at. This was perplexing and frustrating, because so far in my life, neither had been very rewarding vocationally (meaning: getting out of debt or at least making ends meet). It felt like I was cursed by being gifted at hobbies, not real work skills. (Except that my new career seemed to be even more of a sucking financial vortex than my “hobbies”.)

Then, of course, there were all those biscuits that God seemed to be tossing my way.

So, in what is either an act of faith in God’s provision and being true to myself, or the most outstandingly stupid decision I have made in a journey of nomadic proportions that would make Abraham the Patriarch’s blood run cold, I quit being a REALTOR®.

I am focused. On developing the gifts that God gave me. On using my gifts and abilities for the Kingdom. On seeking to excel at the things that I am actually gifted at.

Wendy says the real test will come when somebody asks me what I do for a living, and I can look them in the eye, and say with all seriousness and self-confidence:

“I... am a writer.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

God's Biscuits

One of the great things about having children, is that they grow up. And suddenly, you find yourself sitting across the table from them in a coffee-shop, and you are having a deep, meaningful, spiritually encouraging conversation.

After telling my daughter Jo the story of why I was ending my attempted career-shift into being a REALTOR®, I made a joking comment about how the things I was gifted at qualified me to be a starving artist. When Jo saw this saying on a magnet a few days later, she just had to get it for me. It now occupies a place of honour on our refrigerator door.

(Our family does have a certain fondness for tongue-in-cheek, slightly-dark humour.)

I also found myself sharing with my daughter the various unexpected bits of encouragement that I’d been getting over the past couple of weeks. As Wendy and I had begun to notice these seemingly random tidbits of life-giving words, Wendy observed, “It’s almost like God is tossing you some biscuits.”
  • after playing bass at a different church recently, a well-respected musician from the congregation stood up to make an announcement, but prefaced it with words of appreciation for the musicians, pointing out my bass playing in particular
  • a friend who had been in a worship band with me 15 years ago emailed me out of the blue to say, “I’m not one for ‘titles’, but you were a real worship pastor, and I wanted to say thanks”
  • another former youth group member from 20 years ago found me on BookFace and sent me a message to say thanks for being a youth pastor, and for the impact I’d had on their lives
  • yet another former youth group member, from our time as volunteers with George Mercado in the 80’s, emailed to say, "God’s been putting you on my heart a lot recently -- what can I be praying for you about?”
  • a local couple with whom we’ve enjoyed friendship since the mid-90’s, and who had just finished reading Post-Charismatic?, mentioned in passing during a St. Arbucks gathering, “You should be writing more. That’s your gift.”
“Hmm,” mused my daughter Jo, giving me her widest and most innocent blue-eyed stare, “People whose lives you made an impact on. Music. Writing. What do you think God is trying to tell you, Dad?”


Gee, I dunno... Maybe that having coffee with a wise young woman -- clearly her mother’s daughter -- might point out obvious things that her old man hadn’t dared consider?

Monday, March 19, 2012

(re) Destination

Travelling is a great way of expanding your horizons, mentally as well as geographically. Destinations outside of your normal life and routine can be exciting and provocative times of seeing things from a different perspective.

But still, there’s something special about that moment when you step back on to home turf, with all of its welcome sights, sounds, smells, bustle, and familiarity.

You can see it in the expressions of those in the waiting area, their gaze searching the incoming stream of humanity for familiar faces approaching. The barely-but-not-quite-contained excitement of young children, eagerly anticipating the sight of grandparents turning the corner and coming down the ramp towards them.

The embraces, the cheerful welcomes, as everyone begins to wander towards the baggage claim area, where even the tedium of the grudgingly slow carousels cannot dampen the delight of happy reunions.

Even the serious expressions of the unaccompanied travelers, briefcases and laptops clutched determinedly as they likewise await the return of their checked overnight bags, speaks of a sense of purpose. They have reached their destination, and they are eager to dive into the purpose for their travel.

In the middle of this sea of humanity, baggage, happy reunions, tearful farewells, connecting flights, arrivals, departures, and buzz of multiple conversations, sits the solitary figure of a writer. With the traditional cup of Tim Horton's coffee slowly cooling beside him, he contemplates a creative way of announcing his return to blogging.

But in the end, he realizes that a picture is still worth a thousand words: