James Taylor has it. Stevie Wonder has it. Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell ooze with it. The deft and creative touch of pianists Lyle Mays (with the Pat Metheny group), and arranger/composer/conductor Dave Grusin sparkle with it. Violinists Itsak Perlman and Isaac Stern and Mark O’Conner have it. Take 6 musical arranger Mervyn Warren has it.
Musical genuis? Yes to all of the above, but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about authenticity. That quality of honesty and realness that comes through in the songs that are written and sung and the notes and phrases that are played.
In Mississippi (where I am from) we call it “playing by heart”. It’s more than just the ability to play by memory or by ear, indeed some in the above list don’t play much, if any, of there own compositions… ah, but the interpretation, the rendering is priceless, heartfelt, real… authentic. If art doesn’t move the artist, it won’t move anybody else.
I love the authenticity of the moviemaking Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel (O Brother Where Art Thou?, etc.). The same note of reality and honesty is sounded by novelists Dean Koontz and Pat Conroy. They write “real” stuff, even if it’s mostly fiction. It is a reality that only comes from acknowledging that there is something, Someone, much bigger that ourselves.
I have met a few people like that in the “worship world”.
The example that comes to my mind first is Kent Henry. A pioneer in contemporary praise and worship and the prophetic song, Kent is always the same… on the platform and in person. He is a wonderful, wild, discerning man of God who is an encourager and is passionate. He sometimes wears red tennis shoes and fatigue army shorts in fancy churches, not to show-off or as part of his “act”, Kent just knows that God looks at his heart, and that a lot of times Christians take things like our outward appearance way too seriously!
So why write about authenticity? Because it is such a valuable and unfortunately rare thing… in the world and in the church.
Why did Taylor Hicks win American Idol? (Sorry international readers.) I don’t think it was his vocal ability, I think it was because he so obviously loved doing what he was doing that it made almost everyone else like it (and him) too. That is a kind of authenticity.
When someone finds the courage to be who they are, whether pastor, worship leader, songwriter, plumber, doctor, mom or politician, there is an attractiveness about that person that transcends his or her ability and appearance. In fact, what we all long for in life is to know who we are, to be that person and to love and accept ourselves.
The music business (and the movie business and the publishing business) wants to put most artists (or actors or writers) in one of a few select pigeonholes in order to more effectively mass-market that person. The temptation for the creative person is to lose one’s self in the process.
I contend that the ultimate success is to be who you are and if that is a songwriter, musician, worship leader, preacher, actor, novelist… whatever, if you have authenticity (and, let’s get real, a modicum of gifting in that field) you will be successful.
Jesus said, “If you lose your life for my sake you will find it.” I don’t think he meant that we were to die to who we are- I think He meant to surrender our control of our lives to Him. Indeed, it is my conviction that the only way a person can truly find himself, be himself, is to find out Who God is and how much He loves us.
I am encouraged that I am seeing a cry for realness in my daughters’ generation. A lot of them don’t have the cultural/religious baggage that some of us in my generation have. Style is not nearly as important as substance to this godly generation. They can spot the posturing and people-pleasing religiousity a mile away and it makes them want to run from it. It makes me want to run from it too, and get rid of any that is left in me!
God, deliver us from a world and a religious system that wants to put us all in our cozy boxes with neat labels on them. Teach us that we shine with your love and glory simply by being ourselves. Help us live in authenticity!