Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Perfectionism and music

I’m a musician. I play a couple of instruments, but mostly I am a vocalist. And one of the things that happened from when I first began to learn is requests to perform. It may have been from my father saying, “Roger, you’re not doing anything this afternoon, come with me and do something at the nursing home.” And as I got older I’d start saying, “Dad you need to give me some warning so that I can prepare.” And dad would go, “But you’ll do a good job and they’ll enjoy it no matter what.” I like to perform, but I want some notice before I’m asked.

I do like to prepare. I want to do my best when I perform, whether it is in worship and I’m helping the whole congregation sing with me or as a soloist before an audience. And that takes time in prayer, study, rehearsal, thought and more. And that sense of always working on preparation whether in music or preaching or other things is something that God uses to inspire in my performance.

Yet music in worship does bring me to one of the issues with which I contend. And that is I'm not always satisfied when I bring my best to worship or to God. It's the flip side of the Calvinist work for the glory of God. It's when we begin to be perfectionists. And we're not asked to be perfect though we are asked to bring our best.

I can, acting as a musician/soloist, perform a piece that brings people to tears and go back and examine what I've done and find points to criticize. And that's what makes fundamentalism so attractive to me. In fundamentalism I find standards to meet and I can meet them. They are simple standards - do this and that and it will show that you are saved or say this and speak such and it will show what you believe. And that's not all wrong - James speaks to that show me your faith and I will show you my works. Works are not unrelated to faith.

Yet works are not the faith, but only signs. And making works more important than the one for whom they are done, as when I let my perfectionist streak run rampant, is futile. And it's less than futile for making works important is putting myself again under the law. And we've been ransomed from the slavery we to which we were condemned.

And yet the attractions of that slavery are still there. As a child, as slaves, life is easier. We don't have to make decisions; they're all made for us. But we are called to grow up. Instead of just understanding that the stove is hot - don't touch; we grow to understand how to feel if the stove is hot or cold and, perhaps, even realize that when the pot of hot water is spilling towards a child we will burn ourselves deliberately for another.

There are rules for a child or for a slave that don't work for grown-ups. Or, more accurately, they work differently. The decisions and actions aren't quite so simple as we become more mature.

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