Over the past month or so I have been engaging in a public clearness process about how I should move forward with my music and ministry. I have publicly revealed what is working well and what isn’t. (in short: broad spiritual life and success, financial shortfalls)
I think that my sharing this may be somewhat confusing to Friends. I have heard from many folks who are concerned about me, who wanted to offer emotional support through my tough times. And then there’s the opposite reaction to the same interpretation:
Buck up. Get a job. Quit whining about not getting to live your dream and passion, we all have to give that stuff up at some point and grow up.
“Following Passion” VS Servitude
While I’m grateful for such broad engagement, I find many of these responses to be fundamentally unhelpful.
I consider myself to be a servant and not a self-serving follower of my passion. My musical journey ceased to be my own when I committed to it as a ministry.
I am willing to lay down my musical ministry if it does not serve my community.
Seriously, let me say it again:
I am willing to lay down my ministry.
To further make the point, I want to say that I don’t see it as my ministry. It is yours. You tell me what to do with it.
Am I being of service? Have I outrun my guide? Am I out of touch, unfaithful, a loner?
Tell me. If I am not a valuable servant, I’m gone.
I’ll become a secular artist and make pop songs about romantic love. Or I’ll take a marketing job, settle down in the suburbs and shut up.
(honestly, those sound a little relieving. Stop caring so much, stop working against the system, put my head down and go with the flow and be happy? I’ll take it!)
But that’s not what I’m hearing. I have gotten email after email, Facebook messages, messages on twitter, responses to my newsletter over the course of the past month telling me the opposite:
We need you.
Your ministry brings us hope.
Makes us think.
Informs our faith.
Stimulates our communities.
(not trying to toot my own horn, just telling you what I’m hearing)
How many messages like this do I have to get before I know that I have community support? Fifty? A hundred? A thousand? A million? Enough supporters to buy enough t-shirts to pay for my rent & health insurance? Enough to fund my next album?
What if it is less? What if the demand for me to continue is strong… but not strong enough to pay my rent? It certainly would not be a worthwhile business venture.
But is it a worthwhile ministry?
Other Ministers From My Generation Add Their Voices
I try not to blog about myself unless I see wider thematic value in sharing my story.
Since I have made public my process of reconsidering my commitment to music as ministry, several other ministers have also weighed in with their own stories and thoughts about their own ministries. I would like to ask that you also read:
- Micah Bales: “Get a Job, Minister!“
- Ashley Wilcox: “The Cost of Traveling Ministry“
- My own post: “My Community Doesn’t Support Me. What Should I Do?“
Friends, we are not a small group of whiny moochers who want to sit back and live off of the hard work of others. We are some of the most committed, hard-working public Friends of our generation. And we are trying to tell you something.
We feel like we are on our own out here.
The Voices You Don’t Hear
As one of my favorite authors likes to say, don’t look at my finger, look at the moon. We can discuss my own personal finances, motives and circumstances all day, but that would be missing the point.
Which is this: for every public Quaker minister in my generation that you meet, there are 10-20 that went unrecognized. Unsupported. Unknown. Lost.
Growing up in the Young Friends program in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I was by no means the strongest performer, the loudest voice, the most charismatic, or even the most thoughtful and committed in my community.
But all of those gifted, charismatic, thoughtful, exciting folks I grew up with in BYM are gone. They don’t attend Meeting, they don’t engage with Quakerism as their faith community, and they certainly don’t blog or write songs about their Quakerism.
Where did they go?
I hope that they have found meaningful work with organizations that value them. But I fear that they are working less-than-meaningful jobs, their gifts wasted. And we are all worse off for the loss of these Friends.
The Ears Unreached, The Hearts Unchanged
What is the use of active ministers?
Vital ministry is essential to vitality. Vital ministry breaks us open, stirs us up, inspires conversations, exposes us, makes us uncomfortable, puts us through the refiners fire. Ministers activate people. In short, without vital ministry, we are lost.
My ministry has touched thousands of people, many of them the next generation of Quakerism. I hear from them all the time, in my inbox, at shows, on my Facebook page. They say that my ministry caused them to engage with Quakerism as a path and not just as a community. They say that my ministry got them excited about applied Quaker theology. That it engaged them, started conversations and helped guide their seeking. That it connected them with God.
I like getting these messages. They are validating. But they also make me a little sad.
What if there were more of me? How many more exciting, thoughtful, seeking Young Friends would be stimulated, challenged, engaged and activated?
But there aren’t more of me. There used to be. But I saw them drift away when their gifts went unrecognized, underutilized, unvalidated, and ultimately, unsupported.
What’s worse, I’m worried that we are doing the same thing to the next generation.
But I’ve figured out a solution:
“We Can Meet at Larry’s House”
I admit it, I’m excited about all the property that Quakers own.
Seeing a huge, old, beautiful Meetinghouse makes me feel proud and powerful. My faith community is a valid one. We have played an important role in history and we have it together enough today to keep up with the Joneses.
But I do wonder about the amount of resources that we are pouring into our old drafty Meetinghouses. When I can’t pay my rent, Micah can’t afford to refinish his basement to make room for traveling ministers and Ashley can’t afford to take time off from work to follow the leadings of the Spirit, I wonder at the value of these empty, expensive buildings.
So I ask you, Friends, what’s more important? Big empty buildings or vital ministry? Are we alive or are we already lost?
If your answer is, “We’re alive!! Quit calling us stagnant and asleep!” I would say, prove it:
Support Friends who show promise as future ministers.
Support them spiritually.
Support them financially.
If you don’t have the extra cash, tell your Meeting to sell their Meetinghouse.
Put the money into releasing a hundred active traveling ministers for two years. Or fifty active traveling ministers for 4 years!
Imagine how much more alive, how much more relevant, how much more vital and activated we could be as a faith community.
If I could lay down and sacrifice my making music for anything, it would be this.
This is Just a (Blog) Post
Listen to the Spirit. And then act. Bring this subject up in your Meeting. Start conversations. Share this post. I believe that the future of our religious society and indeed, our society, our very species could very well depend on it.