|Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” –Matthew 25:37-40|
BEING “FOR” EACH OTHER: A CONDUCTOR’S LESSON
I learned (or relearned) a humbling lesson at the KnoxCAM concert at the women’s prison in Nashville last Saturday.
During the concert I felt distracted by changes in the orchestra sound due to the absence of a member who had to work; and by the challenges of keeping us all together in a gym full of echoes. I made some silly conducting mistakes that I fervently hoped wouldn’t confuse the orchestra (our excellent players kept up just fine, despite my errors). I felt a general sense of disconnection, observing what was happening rather than entering into the emotional “flow” of the concert, and wondering if I was a hypocrite for conducting what I wasn’t feeling. When it was over I prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for getting us through this one.”
I was glad to sit down and hear soprano and Lutheran pastor Ingrid bring a message to the women, a message full of God’s grace and peace. Our concert and her message were about the birth of Christ; I felt the holy quiet of Christmas Eve descend on the room as she spoke. It was utterly silent, the women utterly still, their eyes locked on her. Three women came forward at the end to re-commit their lives to Christ. Ingrid prayed with them while the prison chaplain prayed FOR them and the rest of the women.
The first KnoxCAM member I saw afterwards was Marti, a handbell player. She said, “Well, I think that was one of our best ones ever.” I thought, “Really??” I was genuinely surprised but thankful her impression was different than mine.
Our bell director Paula said, “I can always tell how things are going by the way you look; and you looked so joyful. This was a spine-tingler for me.” Joe, another bell player, said, “The actors brought tears to my eyes today.” Sam our cellist said, “I’m always worn out after a concert, and it’s not from physical exertion. I think it’s from the intensity of the emotion and concentration.” David, a singer, said some generous things about the way he felt me communicating with the choir, ending with, “You are FOR us.” (I again wondered if I were a hypocrite.)
The Chaplain spoke with enthusiasm and thankfulness about how quiet and attentive the women were. Two of the prisoners who helped us set up (and served us homemade strawberry bread and blueberry muffins baked by women in the prison culinary arts program) told us how the women whose cells face the gym watch all morning for our coming: they watch us trundle in our truckload of equipment; they watch us troop across the courtyard like a large flock of blue and black birds. They say their first blessing is just seeing us arrive and knowing we have come for THEM. (Out of 600 inmates who are eligible to receive visitors, we were told only 45 have people who visit them regularly. Heartbreaking!) The new warden, who has only been there a week, took group photos to post on the Department of Corrections website.
Everyone seemed thrilled with the concert – except me. I didn’t think we had done a poor job. I actually thought we had done a good job (from a technical standpoint); it just wasn’t “good” for me emotionally. As we were leaving, I said to the group, “This was a harder concert for me; I’m glad the way God works doesn’t depend on the way we feel.”
On the way home I thought about all that had happened, and I was suddenly brought up very short by the painful recognition of my own self-centeredness. (Perhaps you will say I am still dwelling on myself by even writing this article, and perhaps you will be right, I don’t know.) Despite what I had said to the group about God’s work not depending on our feelings, I was in fact measuring the “success” of the concert by my own perceptions. I sensed God saying to me, “It’s not your job to convey how you are feeling; it’s your JOB to convey the meaning of the music to the group. It’s a wonderful gift if you are also feeling as joyful as the story, but really, how you are feeling has nothing to do with it. Will I be enough for you, even if you don’t feel that wonderful emotional flow?” I KNOW this – but how easily I forget! Forgive me, Lord, and thank you for reminding me!
David had said, “You are FOR us.” (Humbling, humbling – I ALWAYS want to be FOR the group, but I had focused on myself instead, even wondering if I were a hypocrite – insidious lies of Satan.)
I think the reverse of what happened to me can also be true: we can assume God is working through a given concert if we feel good about it. The truth is, it’s always dangerous to judge by our own emotions; our job is to create a concert that will resonate with the prisoners, to prepare ourselves and perform to the best of our ability, and then humbly to recognize that GOD is the one who does the work and is in charge of results.
And we do see Him working: in the rapt attention of the prisoners; in the men and women who recommit themselves to Christ or trust Him for the first time; in the letters of thanksgiving and testimony we receive afterwards; in the positive feedback from chaplains and wardens; in the invitations to return again and again.
As I re-read what I have written, I am struck by how often I have talked about the concept of being “for” others: the women are so excited that someone is coming into the prison “for” them, and they are “for” us by treating us as honored guests; the chaplain prayed “for” all the women in attendance; God, through David and others, reminded me again that my job as conductor is to be “for” the group.
This is a beautiful lesson for all of us. My prayer for us is that we will ALL be FOR each other, not dwelling on our own feelings, but rather on this holy story we have the privilege of telling; and on encouraging each other every moment to boldly proclaim that message; not trusting or judging by our own feelings – or even mistakes – but with joyful desperation totally ENTRUSTING ourselves to God alone to do His work.
Check out the article about the KnoxCAM handbells in the latest Jeffers Handbell e-newsletter! http://handbell.com/content/knoxville-christian-arts-ministry
KnoxCAM travels throughout the state of Tennessee, from Mountain City to Memphis, presenting the gospel message at state prison facilities, men’s and women’s units at county jails, Knox Area Rescue Ministries homeless shelter, and numerous retirement communities and nursing care facilities.
For more information about the ministry and how YOU can become a part of KnoxCAM, browse this site and contact Jill Lagerberg, Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-291-5218.
Proclaiming the gospel through choral, orchestral, and handbell music; drama; and dance to prison inmates, the homeless, and the elderly and ill.
Who is KnoxCAM ?
Knoxville Christian Arts Ministries is a multi-generational, community-wide, outreach ministry of Christian choral and instrumental musicians, handbell ringers, actors, and dancers who desire to use their artistic gifts to proclaim the gospel of Christ beyond the walls of the church. We are a supported ministry of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
KnoxCAM has over 100 members, ages 16 – 85, from 30 different congregations representing 11 denominations in the Knoxville area. Our ministry focus is on those “hidden” in our society: prison inmates, the homeless and abused, the elderly and ill. The generous support of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church and individual donors enables us to minister free of charge throughout Tennessee.
The mission of Knoxville Christian Arts Ministries is to integrate music, drama, and dance to proclaim the gospel of Christ wherever God leads, and to minister to our own members by providing a place for them to be on mission using their artistic gifts as part of a loving community of believers.
|Let us hear from you. Contact Dr. Jill Lagerberg, Director