Song Guy … July 28, 2012

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I didn’t know what an ordination was. Probably worse is–I didn’t care. It’s just that this guy I knew was going to be ordained and he asked our fledgling group, Soul Purpose, to sing a tune at his ordination service.

He was probably only twenty-seven years old, but because I was only twenty, I thought he was ancient. (Twenty is that age when anyone nineteen or under is a punk and anyone over twenty-three is heading for social security.

I am sure when this guy asked me to have our group sing, he was thinking about something like Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art. That was not the way I thought. Even though I was only twenty years old, I had already written two songs, recorded them, put them on a 45 RPM record and had begun to travel around to small coffeehouses and area churches in order to convince all those willing to listen that I was worth hearing. So the invitation to sing a tune at the ordination prompted me to write another song. Now, I lived in a small town, where song-writing was normally relegated to Francis Scott Key or George Gershwin. Young men from the community–especially those who had not gone to college–were not permitted to participate in such a flamboyant activity. So the mention of writing a song was usually greeted with a frown or a snicker. It just wasn’t done.

So when I announced to my friend that I was going to write a special song just for his ordination, he was rather nervous. Matter of fact, he discouraged me from doing so in the nicest way possible. I didn’t care. You see, I wanted to be a Song Guy. One of those people who writes “the songs the whole world sings” and “wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

So I sat down and wrote a song, fittingly entitled To Be Ordained, taught it to our group and performed it at the ordination, to surprised appreciation. I had now written three songs and was convinced that Bob Dylan was in danger.

Shortly after that I was inspired again and wrote a fourth song, called The Blood of the Son Makes Us One. About two or three months after writing that song, I attended a concert by a well-known gospel group called The Rambos, and through a series of near-mishaps and unbelievable events, got them to listen to my song. They ended up liking it. They signed it and decided to record it. I was amazed at how easy this was. I had only written four songs and I was already poised to become the next great Song Guy.

And then … I learned what I probably should have known (but of course, I wouldn’t have known it because there was no place for me to have learned it).

I arrived in Nashville to present my song in front of the music publishers, and they, being good business people, wanted to hear my “entire catalogue.” You may not know this, but those picky folks in Nashville don’t consider four songs to be a catalogue. I was in a room with a captive audience of very influential and prosperous men and women, who were anxious to hear the entire body of my work, and I didn’t even have a thumb.

It was embarrassing. It was debilitating. They wanted more … and I had nothing.

You see, I realized in that moment that I didn’t want to be a Song Guy. I wanted to be a guy who wrote A song that made lots of money and then everybody just kept giving him money because he wrote THAT song. I became aware that I had been trained to work on what I wanted to BE instead of actually practicing and performing what I could DO.

It is one of the flaws in the American dream. AFter all, the hypocrisy and presumption is in the title itself. It is a dream–a fantasy of where we want to end up, with no comprehension about what it takes to get there and even less passion for the actual labor itself.

I walked out of that office in Nashville that day resolute. I would never put myself in that position again. I realized that I DID want to be a Song Guy, but not because I wanted to be recorded, make a lot of money and be famous. It was because I really had something to say. And whether anyone ever heard it or not, it needed to escape my body–or it would possess my soul.

Within two years, I wrote an album’s worth of material, which ended up being recorded and played nationally. I then turned around and wrote a fifteen-song musical based on the Sermon on the Mount which toured across the country. When I got together with my family, I wrote at least three albums of songs, which we never actually recorded, and even today, I feel compelled to compose enough music for at least one album per year.

I actually have less attention to my work than I did when I had my four little songs at age twenty, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t write music, books or even this jonathots because I am secretly awaiting the arrival of fame and fortune. I write music because deep in my heart I want to be the Song Guy. I have to allow the music to escape.

The greatest lesson you can teach any young person (or even yourself if you missed it on the way to older) is: Don’t think about what you want to be. Just start working on what you can do. It may be the flaw in our higher educational system. We ask people what they want to be when they grow up instead of giving them a chance to do it and finding out if it wears well on their everyday bodies.

I am a Song Guy. I don’t worry about whether I’m great. I’m not concerned about sitting in rooms with the upper crust of the music industry, seeking their approval. I write songs because they’re in me, I have something to say … and God seems to enjoy listening to them.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

She’s Running Today — October 2, 2011

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I read about it in a book, which curiously claims to possess a face.  She has entered a race and will be running today.  When I saw the words I couldn’t help but smile.  How remarkable life is–yet how few times we remark.  Curious. 

Because when I met her, she wasn’t walking. Actually, she was barely crawling. She had been beaten down by a man who was supposed to lift her spirit up and praise her for her beauty and uniqueness.  He didn’t. Absent a soul of satisfaction, he continued to ransack her self-confidence and joy to feed his insatiable need for approval. 

She didn’t hate him. That was the profile she selected in a moment of weakness, trying to be loyal to somebody who had already abandoned her. It left her destitute of options and emotionally raped.  For emotion? She had none. She wasn’t allowed to have any–because her feelings might have sprouted a bit of dissatisfaction which would have been completely unacceptable to her aggressor. 

How do you free a prisoner who is chained to her captor?  You can’t. She has to find the key and she is the only one who can relieve her imprisonment. Yet you can encourage her to use the key.

So I did.  I just asked her to feel again. I listened. 

Nothing of any quality happens in the human experience without the freedom to feel without being ashamed.

Once she tapped a well of emotion, trapped in a cave-in deep in her soul, she realized that her unhappiness would not only prevent her from joy but eventually would also be her undoing. She got free. She left her abductor and became a soul who was no longer a hostage to aggravation.

She was so grateful that she wanted to come along with me and join my efforts. I denied her. She was confused and felt I was rejecting her as a person, when actually, I was merely passing on an opportunity to become her new master. She didn’t need a master.  She didn’t even need anyone who resembled a master.  She certainly didn’t require another human being to be her source once again.  Reluctantly, I moved on, having accomplished my portion in her redemption.

She stumbled for a time. We must always remember–it is not our job to keep people from falling on their faces. For after all, there is no way to learn how to get up without first falling down. I always encouraged her–but I never manipulated her. I always respected her–but I never demanded that she return in kind.  Step by step, she grew older and wiser, until finally she found her feet and began to walk. At first she stayed in contact out of a sense of loyalty, but soon her ability to move took her away from me.

And now I hear she’s running in a race.  Today. She has gotten herself in shape, she has exercised, she has mobilized and she is ready to compete.

I am thrilled.

Because most people want to sit around and sing “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound.” It is a wonderful sentiment–but I think when God sings, His song is a bit different. I think that as a good father, benefactor, savior and kind heart, He looks down and sings:  “Amazing people! Who have accepted My grace.”

She’s running today.  Did I mention that?

Amazing.

***************

Jonathan Sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

 

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