Last night I went to what will most likely go down as the best concert I've attended to date.
I know that the title of "best" in regards to music (or most anything for that matter) is practically impossible to truly identify and differentiate, but this particular performance is certainly up there with "The Mud-Dog Hounds" farewell show at the Lake County fairgrounds in 1998.
Last night we had the esteemed pleasure to see Jónsi, frontman and co-founder of the Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Rós, perform songs from his recently released solo album "Go".
I say that he "performed" his songs, but to be honest, that word doesn't fully describe the occasion. The music alone is stunning enough to deconstruct most everything you know about ambient, folk, pop, electronic music, but partnered with the most ravishing live performance I've ever seen, this experience is one I won't soon forget. From elaborate set designs to brilliantly unique costuming, this entire evening was absolutely enchanting from start to finish.
As I soaked up all that was included in this evening, I found myself stirred and inspired, most of the time without even understanding what was being sung.
There is something so unsettling, so brilliant about art that allows us to be deeply moved by it without even necessarily knowing what the original intent in creating it was. This is something I've known for awhile, but find myself learning and experiencing in new ways all the time, and each time I am surprised at how I ever had missed it before. Like a beautiful house in your neighborhood that you'd driven past a hundred times, but never noticed until you went for a walk. Beauty is funny like that.
As powerful and captivating as the music and arrangements were, I think what truly resonated with me was the excellence by which it was all presented. Every element was delivered with such intentionality that you couldn't help but get caught up in the whirlwind. It didn't even matter if the rhythms were perfect, or if each element was executed flawlessly, because you bought into the greater invitation to join in the party. I can be in a greasy bar in the middle of nowhere and be completely entranced in the performance of a single struggling musician with a guitar and a microphone singing their heart out as if they're very life depended on it, because you know beyond a doubt that this person plays with a passion that cannot be fabricated. It's that kind of excellence that draws me deep into the story of the song.
Jónsi is by no stretch a Christian performer or songwriter, and yet for some reason, as I sat in that theater engaging with what was before me, I felt God stirring in me. Stirring to love, to create, to live in the passionate disdain for mediocrity and the unquenchable predilection to see humanity restored that He instills in His children. It was almost as if Jónsi was somehow inciting a spirit of God's grace, without even knowing he was doing so. Perhaps Calvin was on to something when he said "All truth is God's truth", which could very well mean that as Christians we not only have the right but the responsibility to observe beauty, grace, mercy, and redemption in the world, and claim it. It is God's.
I think that the human condition has a natural bent towards this idea of excellence. Again, not as a model for flawlessness, but of living in a way that reflects a deep longer for something beyond themselves, and doing so with the raging desperation of a drowning man gasping for air. If you're like me, these ideas make a lot more sense for artists, performers, and musicians -the ones who get the galleries, stages, and podiums. But I think the call goes much wider than that.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men -Col 3:23*
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. -1 Cor 10:31*
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -1 Cor 15:58 *
The word "fully" in 1 Cor 15 is the word "perisseuno" which means "abounding, doing over and above, excelling", which is a challenge that falls on each of our shoulders. That whether you are baring your soul on a stage, or stacking chairs after an event, we are all commissioned to do so with complete and utter surrender. It may appear easier to be passionate about one thing over another, but apparently the call goes even past passion. It's almost as if God knew how deeply humans would be drawn towards individuals who give themselves fully to even the supposedly mundane tasks in their lives.
Obviously there needs to be balance. A man would not be considered a wise husband if he thrusted himself entirely to the task of making sure each spoon was clean with pristine attention if in fact he neglected his wife and children. But I think that if we are able to stop and look at where we are, baggage and all, and truthfully commit ourselves to doing so with the greatest amount of excellence, knowing that our diligence may very well be the only gospel that a person ever reads, we begin to see our God of the whisper. He wasn't in the mighty winds, the terrifying earthquake, or the raging fire, but the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).
The details and the day to day tasks are what seem to be the most difficult for us to truly give ourselves most fully to, but I would argue that it is in these moments that we are transformed. We all know the frustration of being rudely cut off in traffic, but oh how our rage grows when we notice that "Jesus Fish" adhered to the back bumper. We cannot continue to fly to other nations serving the poor of those countries if we're going to be a jerk to our next door neighbor.We must live in humble excellence and full surrender with everything, or it's not really surrender at all.
Take heart, friends. The work you do, even what seemingly goes unnoticed and under appreciated, is not in vain. For by it, we are ushering in the very Kingdom of the Most High.