How My Ministry Ministers to Me (Or… How I’ve Been Called Into Nakedness)

Sometimes Friends approach me after performances, on the internet, after a Meeting for Worship, and praise me, noting how deeply my ministry affects them.

With all due respect (and thank you, truly), we might be going about this thing all wrong.

Invited Into Fully Being

When I take on a new project, I find that it is more often because there is something about the subject matter that I don’t know than because I do. That is to say – I receive a leading to go where I am blind, not where I am familiar.

When I lived at Pendle Hill in 2006-07 I named my project The Art of Fully Being. I saw that our shame and fear of judgment causes us to live limited lives in which we allow ourselves to experience openly only a narrow scope.

Rather than feeling that “I have figured out the way to live fully and now it is time to tell everyone else”, I felt that I was being invited into knowing that my own shame and fear of judgment limits my ability to love myself, to allow myself to be (which undoubtedly affects my ability to love others and allow them to be!).

To be specific, I tend to panic when emotions arise in me that I am not proud of or comfortable with: anger, jealousy, doubt, shame. My panic exacerbates the emotion that I am trying to avoid. What if, instead of hating and fearing these emotions, I allow them to rise in me and examine them lovingly…?

“Why don’t you try it and see what happens?”
-The leading to make The Art of Fully Being

What a gift is art. And what a challenge.

Invited to Clothe Myself in Righteousness

My current project is about nakedness. On a similar vein to TAoFB, I have found that our shame and fear of judgment hinders our authenticity in the world. We care deeply about being loved and being accepted, and we often will go to great lengths to prove our worthiness and hide aspects of ourselves that we perceive to make us unworthy.

I see that I wrap my perceived value up into my identity. My ability to be a clear and loving presence is hindered by my anxiety about how others perceive me and what I see as my value level in the social hierarchy. I have found myself clothing myself in my value as a musician or as a well known Friend. In this project I have been invited to dig past those layers, and it has caused a great deal of soul searching.

…and the project is not done. I am still in the final stages of recording (just posted this update on the CYiR website) and surely will continue to be ministered to by the project (often it is in the presentation and reaction to the project that I am the most stretched, as you might remember from my last music video).

But I can already point to major shifts in the way that I approach art. Instead of comfortably nestling my voice into layers and layers of instruments, production, and backup vocals, I have felt called to “strip it down”, lift my voice out and place it, bare, out in the front of the mix. The guitar work, similarly, is bare, with few layers and other instruments to distract.

I am videotaping each part of each recording session and will post videos online. This is taking something that once was a very private, solitary process for me and exposing it.

I am putting the project (my baby!) into the hands of others for the mixing and mastering.

Each of these things is dramatically new and different, and oh, how naked I feel! I am certain that the songs will speak to people, but while I am glad that others can benefit as witnesses of my projects, I wonder if passive observation is an easy way out.

We are all able to listen to the ways in which we are called into radical experiments in being. It is fine to appreciate “my” ministry, but I would like to encourage us to see others’ ministries as a beginning, or as the inspiration to follow the leadings that would minister to us.

8 thoughts on “How My Ministry Ministers to Me (Or… How I’ve Been Called Into Nakedness)”

  1. Hi John,

    Okay I’m sure this won’t be the first or last time you hear this question: when you go on tour for your nakedness project, I’m guessing your audience will have the expectation of seeing some nakedness. It seems to me you will be put in the awkward position of either not satisfying that expectation, or satisfying it and having to deal with all the complications that that entails. Or perhaps you can head off such expectations with a disclaimer: “Performers of this show will at no time be naked on stage.” Thoughts?

  2. Hey Larry, good to hear from you!

    It actually hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would expect me to literally take my clothes off! Hmm… that would make for a different kind of show, for sure! 😉

    No, I’m sure that the type of crowd I’m playing for will understand that it is a research project about historical literal nakedness and a modern exploration of figurative nakedness. Or maybe I should learn to striptease?!

  3. Hey Jon,

    Love to hear this. It goes along with how I’ve been feeling, no longer am I ok with making comfortable music. It needs to bee music that moves mountains within us, its such a struggle to not hide behind all the labels that I’ve collected over the years of making music. I’m always rooting for you, and learning!

    1. Right! And you can’t write songs by saying “what collection of tones and thoughts can I put together that would move a mountain?” without it being forced, contrived, and, ultimately, ineffective. It is (luckily and unluckily) our job as artists to forge the pathway into the thicket, to get the scrapes and scratches from the brush and to write home about it.

      thankful for your presence in this whole journey, Jacob.

  4. So glad for the update and to hear exciting news of your work. Your current project speaks to me as I wrestle with similar questions about identity, calling, and feelings of worth while I write a memoir. Working title of my book? Hiking Naked! It’s the story of my spiritual journey that led me (and my family) to an isolated mountain village where I did serious discernment about my work as a nurse, and my family took a hard look at our lifestyle. Sure, there was some naked hiking and some skinny dipping in the mountains, but it’s really about those actions of stripping away expectations of others and letting go of my fear of others’ perceptions of me. I’ve dragged my feet for years on this project, realizing that my time of “hiking naked” was just the beginning – I still have more questions than answers. The journey goes on, and I’m being ministered to as I write.

    Thank you for being faithful to your call; I look forward to hearing and seeing where you’ve been led.

    The best to you, my friend.

  5. Jon, I couldn’t have found you at a more perfect time in my life. I was made seriously ill through doctor error eight years ago. Through the first several years of unceasing physical suffering, and numerous setbacks since then, I have been stripped to my core. Never more naked since I was a a young child.

    God told me through a dream early on in my illness that this was to be a spiritual process and that I would get to the other side. So (not by choice) I had to open myself and depend upon God’s leadings to both heal and learn what he was trying to teach me.

    I have now experienced what was needed for me to learn powerful truths. Now my challenge, as I come to physical wholeness again, is to continue walking “naked upon this earth.”

    Your words are inspirational as fear begins to creep in again. Your project and your Self, as you lay yourself so open to us, wil help me continue to have the courage and faith I need to take my next steps.

    Thank you for YOUR courage and example.

    1. Thanks so much for your message, Jane. We liberal Quakers often like to think of God and comforting and spirituality as safe, but I find that it is quite the contrary… often seeking to be worshipful and open requires us to examine painful truths about ourselves. I have certainly been put through the gauntlet for this project, and it sounds like you have been through a similar experience recently… the key, for me, is to take difficult experiences and transform them into growth or ministry.

      peace and love to you!

  6. Thank you for kicking an epiphany I’ve been avoiding (as I often do) into gear. I grew up in a culture where spirituality was often about punishing and being … angry … at oneself for imperfections. But, of course, of course (!) feelings of shame or worry need to be examined and understood, not flogged and hidden. Moving toward an authenticity of self can be uncomfortable (and how I identified with that word ‘panic’ that you used), but living a life without that openness of self is like living in a murky and crowded patch of dark confusion. At least, that is my experience. It’s hard to live authentically and in full examination of ourselves, but to not do so is certainly worse, to be stuck so heavily in some sort of veil of “safety” that simply isn’t real. Well. And part of my discomfort comes from sharing my feelings on these matters with others, but clearly, I’m at facing that at least a little bit. 😉 Thank you.

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