Tag Archives: Musician

The Depressed Prophet

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:13-18 (NIV)

Across the ages, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been labeled with  the moniker “The Weeping Prophet.” In our bedroom at the lake Wendy and I have a copy of Rembrandt’s portrait of Jeremiah looking depressed and sullen as he sits amidst the ruins of Jerusalem. It reminds me that the lake is a thin place where any who are burdened can find rest for their souls. Alas, it would seem that Jeremiah had no such place.

In today’s chapter we read of a confrontation between Jeremiah and a priest named Pashur, who was “the official in charge of the Temple of the Lord.” The fact that the one “in charge” was out to get Jeremiah is a good indication of just how corrupt the system had become in Jeremiah’s day. The priest in charge of the Temple was overseeing all of the pagan rituals and cults operating out of the Temple. The Temple had become a religious corporation, a powerful money-maker for those in charge (not unlike the way Jesus’ found the Temple in His day).

While Jeremiah had been protected from the death-threats that had already been made against him, Pashur decided to at least punish the prophet for his inflammatory prophesies of doom and destruction. I’m quite sure they were bad for business. In fact, I can almost hear Pashur saying, “This isn’t personal, Jer. It’s strictly business.” Once again, this is not unlike Jesus who, after His repeated rants against their corruption and His stirring up of the people, pressured the Temple leaders to plot His death .

After his time in the stocks, Jeremiah immediately confronts Pashur with a stubborn and willful repeating of his prophetic message: Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people led into captivity at the hands of Babylon. Obviously the prophet wanted Pashur to know his punishment did not have the desired effect. In fact, it simply appears to have pissed Jeremiah off.

What comes next is fascinating. The weeping prophet goes into a depression and pens a dark poem that graphically expresses his wish that he’d never been born. Obviously, the burden of his role, his prophecies, and the steady threats and persecution were getting to him. Of course they were. It would get to me too.

This morning I’m thinking about how common it is for humans to go through periods of depression. If you were privy to my medical records you’d find that I’ve had a few bouts with the blues along my life journey, and I never faced anything like what Jeremiah was dealing with. I’m also thinking about how common it is for individuals in history (artists, musicians, writers, thinkers) who saw and expressed things no one else could see were given to depression, madness, mental illness, and even suicide. I’d certainly put Jeremiah alongside the likes of Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Parker.

I’m struck by the contrast this morning between the spit-shined image I believe we often have of a “godly” person or a “servant of God.” We demand so much, expect so much, and are so quick to scapegoat individuals for their weaknesses and shortcomings. Jeremiah reminds me this morning that God’s servants were fully human, carried human flaws and weaknesses, were susceptible to all the shortcomings known to humanity, and were even given to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Jeremiah reminds me to cut others a break. He even reminds me to be a bit more gracious with myself.

Wendy and I were at the lake late last week opening it up for the coming summer season. Once again, I saw and pondered Jeremiah’s portrait as I lay in bed.

I’m looking forward to getting back there.

(FWIW: My latest message was added to the Messages page.)

Be Strong and Courageous, and DO THE WORK

Picasso's studio
Picasso’s studio

David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.
1 Chronicles 28:20 (NIV)

Pablo Picasso created more schlocky crap than any artist in history. Picasso, however, was always at work. His life was a non-stop stream of artistic output. His home and studio were packed to the gils with his work. It was his manic output, it can be argued, that took him in directions no one imagined. Amidst the steady stream of creative work, a masterpiece would occasionally emerge that would forever change the direction of art and history.

 

Most artists I know (whether it be visual artists, writers, musicians, craftsman, artisans, or playwrights) are afraid to do the work. Afraid of criticism, afraid of producing bad art, afraid of the voices in their head, afraid of revealing their heart, afraid of what the parents will say, afraid of being successful, afraid of being a failure, etc., etc., and etc.

“Inspiration will come,” Picasso said, “but it must find you working.”

Several years ago I memorized the above verse from this morning’s chapter. One of the things that I love about God’s Message is that I will occasionally find layers of personal meaning unintended in the original context. David, the warrior, poet, and song writer, was encouraging his son Solomon, the young philosopher, poet, and song writer, to be diligent in accomplishing the work of building the temple. Solomon’s temple, built from his father’s inspiration, plans, blueprints, would become one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In my writing, acting, and artistic output, I desire to follow Picasso’s example: fearlessly cranking out the work so that inspiration (literally meaning “Spirit breathing into”) will find me at work and will once in a while produce through me something worthwhile. Yet I am susceptible to fear, anxiety, timidity and sloth like almost every other child of the Creator I know. I need encouragement. And so, years ago, I memorized and internalized David’s message to Solomon. By repeating it in my head, my heart hears my Creator, Father God speaking directly to me:

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the Lord is finished.”

Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 5

Playing guitar on the back porch with Dad.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:12-14 (NLT)

I often refer to myself as a “back porch musician.” I can play the guitar and love to do so, but you’re not going to find me gigging at your local club this weekend. I’ve written a few songs just for the creative fun of it. I like to strum and pluck along with those who really know the craft, and Wendy will tell you that I get jazzed when asked and given the opportunity to play.

I had a few years of piano and drum lessons in elementary school and learned some of the rudimentary basics about music. I taught myself how to play the guitar in high school, then taught myself to play bass as an adult. I can still look at a sheet of music and tell you where a particular note is on the keyboard (just give me a second to think about it).

For over 30 years I’ve been an elementary musician. When it comes to being fluent in the language of music, I have not progressed much beyond the same knowledge I had when I was playing in the Woodlawn Elementary School band (I’m sure that was a treat for my parents). I have pangs of wishing I was a better musician. I try to play well and make small improvements, but at the end of the day I’m okay with being a back porch musician. I’ve focused my time and energy on other creative expressions. It’s all good.

What’s not all good is to think that the same stunted growth and rudimentary knowledge could or would apply to things of the Spirit. Spirit is like a muscle. Spirit is like a craft or an art form. Our spirit does not grow, mature, and develop without regular stretching, exercise, and nourishment. Without seeking we don’t find, Without knocking doors won’t open for us, without asking we don’t receive.

Our spiritual life is a journey, but only when we consciously make the effort to step up, step out, and press on. Throughout our lives we are given the choice to exit the journey at any number of comfortable rest areas along the path. There we can sit for the rest of our lives if we so choose, though we do so at our detriment. My musical knowledge and maturity will not count for much when this life is over, but my spiritual knowledge and maturity will have eternal consequences.

Feel like you’ve been sitting at a spiritual rest area since you were a kid? The entrance ramp is right there. Step up, step out, and join us. If you need some encouragement, give me a shout (tomvanderwell@gmail.com).

Original Works Night

Wendy and I had another fun weekend. On Friday night it was a theatre date as Theater Central produced a very interesting show called Amber Waves.

Last night was “Original Works Night” at our church. It’s pretty cool. Artists, Musicians, Poets, and Writers present their original works in a laid back, coffee house atmosphere. I grabbed my camera and took some pics. All of my photos are posted to my Picasa web album.

Charlie Koopman

The atmosphere was very enjoyable.

Kathy Haug performs an original monologue

Who Wants the Drumstick?
Jerod Garland