Last evening as I was scrolling through TED Talks, listening to poets give eloquent tributes to dogs and comedians tackle the complexities of science, I discovered Sting sharing his personal and professional journey as a songwriter. After all the success he'd accomplished, he found his writing well had gone dry. (Watch Sting's presentation here.)
In his own words...
And then one day, the songs stopped coming, and while you've suffered from periods of writer's block before, albeit briefly, this is something chronic. Day after day, you face a blank page, and nothing's coming. And those days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and pretty soon those months have turned into years with very little to show for your efforts. No songs... You're rewarded for revealing your innermost thoughts, your private emotions on the page for the entertainment of others, for the analysis, the scrutiny of others, and perhaps you've given enough of your privacy away.
And yet, if you look at your work, could it be argued that your best work wasn't about you at all, it was about somebody else? Did your best work occur when you sidestepped your own ego and you stopped telling your story, but told someone else's story, someone perhaps without a voice, where empathetically, you stood in his shoes for a while or saw the world through his eyes?
Well they say, write what you know. If you can't write about yourself anymore, then who do you write about? So it's ironic that the landscape I'd worked so hard to escape from, and the community that I'd more or less abandoned and exiled myself from should be the very landscape, the very community I would have to return to to find my missing muse.
And as soon as I did that, as soon as I decided to honor the community I came from and tell their story, that the songs started to come thick and fast. I've described it as a kind of projectile vomiting, a torrent of ideas, of characters, of voices, of verses, couplets, entire songs almost formed whole, materialized in front of me as if they'd been bottled up inside me for many, many years...
In a culture - inside church and out - that values story-telling, how much of our telling is about us? Maybe, in our best efforts and purest intentions to help each other tell our personal story, our personal experience of Jesus, we've risked putting the spotlight on us, on me.
Maybe our wells go dry, often not knowing what to say or how to say it - because it's always about us, about me. Maybe people really do get tired of us talking about ourselves. Maybe our story isn't as inspiring as we thought it was, because we say "I" so much.
What is it - like Sting - to tell someone else's story. To do so suggests that we'll have to practice Paul's teaching...
...in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. (Philippians 2: 3-4)
To tell someone else's story will require genuine interest, direct eye contact, careful listening and empathetic care. After all, while Jesus agenda was to proclaim the Father's Kingdom, he did so by selflessly entering the storyline of men and women and children. He didn't surrender the upper story, as Randy Frazee puts it in The Heart of the Story. Jesus came to call us into the upper story, but he did so by entering our lower story: the day-to-day stuff that occupies our attention and controls our lives. He gives voice, not to the frustration and hopelessness of our story, but to the fullness of life in a Story that is ours, even if we don't know it.
In his TED talk, after singing a couple songs that come from the stories of others, Sting offered,
So having decided to write about other people instead of myself, a further irony is that sometimes you reveal more about yourself than you'd ever intended.
It's in the design of God, the author of the Story, that we discover how much we really need each other, how much we are created for community.
We're launching dozens of new groups this fall at Granger Community Church. Perhaps you'd like to host a group and engage the stories of others, helping them take their next step toward Christ. We do this together. Go here to get more info and register for an orientation/training that will answer questions and help make take your next step.