Monday, February 10, 2014

Live Boldly!

My pastor, Dr. Leavins, made the title proclamation during his sermon yesterday morning as one response to the beautiful truth of the Gospel of the Christ.  "Live boldly!"  I like that; although those who know me well would likely be surprised to hear me say this.  My life has hardly been one of someone who likes to take risks. Indeed, in my earlier days the few times I stuck my neck out always resulted in nearly losing my head.  Consequently, I have developed the oft times annoying habit of over analyzing things in the hopes of making sure the landing from any possible outcome would be a smooth one; as you might predict, my plane rarely left the hanger.

In more recent times, because God has given me a deeper and richer understanding of His love, and because I see His love so evident in my beautiful wife, Sara, I have felt more at ease to live boldly--not necessarily by taking more risks in the traditional sense of the word, but opening myself up to experiences that in the past would have certainly caused despair or embarrassment. An example is musical performance.

When Dr. Leavins spoke about living boldly I immediately thought of a conversation I had had with a colleague about a recent concert he had performed.  He and another colleague performed the first movement of the Bach double violin concerto.  It is a difficult piece, and they did a wonderful job.  However, my friend told me he has played it much better before and since.  "It's just that when you get in front of all those people...."  Boy, could I relate.  It dawned on me this morning that performance anxiety is a perfect metaphor for the kinds of things keeping us from living boldly; and the solution to performance anxiety is a great picture of what it is like walking in Christ, which is the beauty of His Gospel.

The best remedy to performance anxiety is to play out.  When we don't play out, usually out of the fear of making a mistake (and I'm assuming we have prepared well prior to the performance) we actually will make many mistakes.  But the worst mistake we will make is not wrong notes, or losing our place, or even missed notes, the worst mistake we make when holding back is sounding unmusical.  The audience will forgive a few glitches here and there if the playing is musical; it is the musicality that carries the listener into rapture, not technical perfection.  The only way to play musically is to let the music play itself--let it sing, mistakes and all—to play out.

Now, obviously the best performance is one that is both technically spot on and beautifully musical.  Even though this is true, it doesn't negate the necessity of playing out.  The more times we play out, the more times are performances will be musical, and therefore the less often we will make technical errors.  Musicality not only moves the audience, it inspires the performer, also.  And this inspiration relaxes the player, which in turn frees her to remain in full control of both her micro and macro motor responses, and listen better to intonation in order to make adjustments practically transparent to the audience.  By playing boldly, the performer does the best justice to the music she is trying to communicate.

God has made it very clear that there is only one way we must live in order to experience full, meaningful, purposeful, peaceful, and eternal life.  He has also made it clear we will only find such life in Him. We must surrender ourselves to Him completely if we want to perfectly play the music He created us to play.  The trouble is we believe we can do it on our own--that we can find this wisdom in ourselves or in creation.  We really cannot do this, so we don't play out; we don't live boldly.  And consequently, we sin and the music we make is discordant and ugly.

You might argue at this point that most sinful behavior happens with people who live boldly.  It only appears this way.  The reason we don't live boldly for God is because we either are afraid of His punishment or because we don't care, at all.  The former case is like the player who holds back in fear the audience's wrath; because she believes the audience expects perfection--especially if they paid for the ticket.  And they do.  So, as I said before, she holds back, because she is more concerned with how she will be received than the music, and therefore almost always disappoints the listeners.

The other response is to play the way we want and not care, at all.  Yes, we play out; but in order to be outrageous.  We may claim it as art and free expression, but it is really just as self-serving as the person who holds back.  We titillate and sensationalize as a cover to our own ineptness, or our own poor self-concept.  In short, we act out in fear.

I speak in broad terms here, fully aware of the complexities of human nature.  Nevertheless, people don’t live boldly, in the sense Dr. Leavins means, out of fear of being exposed as the charlatans they know themselves deep down to be.  This is the tragedy of the fall of humankind.  We all insist we can be our own gods, and then run in terror at the prospect.

Okay, so what exactly does Dr. Leavins mean by living boldly.  To live boldly is to live in freedom.  Not freedom as in reckless abandonment; I have already covered that.  No, by freedom, he means freedom from fear.  This happens when we let ourselves go in Christ—to live boldly so the true life God has created for our place in the cosmos will bloom and multiply.  We live boldly even though well aware of the perfection God demands, because we know such life is only found in Christ, and He has proved Himself faithful to fulfill this life in and through us, and has forgiven our mistakes.  It is exactly like a musician who plays out confidently because she realizes by playing for the music’s sake, the music ultimately plays itself.  And in the same way that when we let the music play, we actually make less and less technical errors, when we surrender ourselves to Christ, we find we conform more and more to God’s standard of holy love. 

God’s standards haven’t changed, any more than standards of good music have.  It’s just that when we focus on the expectations of good music we invariably focus on our own capabilities and quickly impair ourselves by fear.  And when we focus on the standards of God instead of Christ, we look to our own resources and fail to meet those standards, every time.

There is a great irony in this we must not miss.  When we surrender ourselves completely over to living in Christ, we don’t lose ourselves.  Quite the contrary, as with music allowed to sing freely, both the listener and the performer are edified and inspired, when we look to God alone for life, He gives it back to us, making us participants together with Him, which is what true life actually is.  We are not lost in Christ, but perfected in Him.  This is what it means to be free in Christ, just as Saint Paul taught us,

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand (in this freedom), then, and don’t again be entangled by the yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1)

This is the beauty of the Gospel of the Christ.  God, because of His unfathomable love for us, even though we rejected Him, has made it possible for us to be free from our self-imposed shackles of fear and to finally and truly live boldly.