Friday, March 13, 2009

Secret Ambition

Friday the 13th, Part 2
(There are three of them in 2009; in February, March, and November)

Today's Word:
Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a (Poor, poor Joseph, sold to be a slave; situation's grave, hey; sold to be a slave...)
Psalm 105:16-21 (Recalling Joseph's deliverance and becoming Prime Minister in Egypt)
Matthew 21:33-46 (The parable of the vineyard; "The Kingdom of God will be taken away...and given to a people that will produce its fruit")

Something a little "old school" to start things today...

Young man, up on the hillside
Teaching new ways
Each word, winning them over
Each heart a kindled flame

Old men, watch from the outside
Guarding their prey
Threated by the voice of a paragon
Leading their lambs away
Leading them far away

Nobody knew his secret ambition
Nobody knew his claim to fame
He broke the old rules steeped in tradition
He tore the holy veil away
Questioning those in powerful positions
Running to those who called his name
But nobody knew his secret ambition
Was to give his life away

His rage, shaking the temple
His word to the wise
His hand, healing on the seventh day
His love wearing no disguise

Some say, death to the radical
He's way out of line
Some say, praised be the miracle
God sends a blessed sign
A blessed sign for troubled times

Nobody knew his secret ambition
Nobody knew his claim to fame
He broke the old rules steeped in tradition
He tore the holy veil away
Questioning those in powerful positions
Running to those who called his name
But nobody knew his secret ambition
Was to give his life away...

No no, No no
I tell you nobody knew
Until he gave his life away

--Secret Ambition
Michael W. Smith

Today I resume my saga. I left off last week at the beginning of my stint as a music minister, some forty years ago. (There's that number again. Yes, it does seem like forever.)

I was a member of the choir under Charles' direction for 13 years. It was something I looked forward to; so much so that I hated when things like work got in the way of being able to attend Mass. When I was serving fries at McDonald's (at that point not quite old enough to drive) I'd walk nearly two miles from church to work. One job had me working at all sorts of weird times, but I would try to avoid working Sundays.

About eight years into this, the Catholic high school in town held an annual fund raiser - two weekends of amateur entertainment put on by each of the local parishes. Because of my known musical abilities, I was asked to be part of it.

At about the same time, I met the love of my life. She wasn't part of all I was doing at the time, but we liked each other and got along well. It took me a long time to realize that she was indeed the love of my life. I finally got the message, or at least enough of it; and in the summer of 1981 I took that love to share with forever. My wife tells me she always knew I was the one. It took me awhile, but I know now that she is the only one for me.

Though I moved out of the parish, I continued to sing in the choir. There was no reason in my head not to. When an opportunity later came to move into an apartment that friends of my parents owned, we took it. It was closer to where I was working, and as God might have wanted it, it was only blocks from the church I'd spent most of my life.

I might have stayed there forever, had it not been that the talent I had been blessed with was not going unnoticed elsewhere. One fateful day I got a phone call from the next person who would drastically change my life. There was a planned installation ceremony for a new pastor at another Catholic church in town, and extra voices were needed. Could I lend a hand? It was a one-time thing; sure!

It was the first time I met 'Brother' Jesse. (Jesse was such an individual that it takes another post just to describe him. That will come at another time.)

I don't even remember all the details of that event. It came and went without incident. But at the beginning of the next season that fall, Jesse called me again. Would I be interested in joining the choir at his church (yet another Catholic church, across town)?

I had to think about this one. And now, thinking about it, I must have had a 'secret ambition' of my own.

I had given 12 years of service to my home church, and it all seemed as if it could go on a lot longer before there would be any fresh blood. It seemed most of the other singers knew me from growing up in the grade school - they were old enough to be my parents, if not older. What would it be like elsewhere? I wouldn't know if I didn't try.

For the next nine months I played the crosstown shuffle on Sundays. Mass at the first church was at 9:00; at the second, 10:00. The first service lasted about 45 minutes; then hop in the car, cross the river and arrive at the second Mass as it was getting started.

I know I discussed this with my wife at some point. We'd spend most Sunday afternoons with her family, which for the most part kept us happy. It didn't come without some serious discussion or even arguments once in a while. I knew I would not be able to keep this up forever. I would have to choose one or the other.

I saw a lot of younger faces in the second church; faces looking closer to my own age. There was a different repertoire; a challenge because it meant something new (to me) to learn, and in musical circles I learned quickly. Jesse also managed to have someone helping him out; a fairly accomplished organist named Mike. I saw opportunity, opportunity for growth. Hard to believe in something as traditional as Roman Catholicism; but it was the 80s, and the Church was leaning a bit more liberal those days.

I discussed this with my loving wife. As always, she saw my reasoning and supported it, even if she saw something I didn't. And the decision was, in part at least, a practical one. I couldn't keep up the crosstown jumping indefinitely. Something had to change.

So after 13 years, I left Charles, a fine teacher and director who said that the only thing I should ever regret is that I didn't pursue vocal work in high school. I even went so far as to tell him why I was leaving. I didn't realize it for a long, long time, but this was the result of my ego, my talking self, taking up residence in much bigger quarters that it should have had. I had a nagging feeling for some time that I had somehow betrayed Charles. He retired maybe one, two more seasons after I left.

Thus began the next phase in my service as a music minister. During the next six years, I would lay the foundations - some good and some bad - for my rise to be all that I could be. There were lots of good things that came about in the years that followed; that will be revealed here in due time. God was there, of course. He always was, steering me as much as I would allow Him. After all, He is the ultimate boss. But some of His suggestions to me were being translated poorly by my inner talking self, and it was keen on doing whatever was necessary to get on the inside track; for there ultimately lay my ticket to heaven.

Yes, the desire to serve, coupled with the impressions my grandmother had given me for many years, had become my secret ambition, and I didn't have a clue as to how far off-track the path could potentially go. I would eventually require a serious dose of humility, several, in fact; but humility was the last thing my talking ego wanted any part of. I was coming into my thirties, and I hoped to have something to show for it. I should have wanted to grow up a little more first.

I confess to almighty God,
and to anyone reading here,
that I have sinned through my own fault
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask the Lord Jesus,
my Savior and Redeemer,
all the powers of heaven,
and anyone reading here predisposed to prayer,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

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