finding your voice in the new year.

Although it’s probably just my ambitious ego, I like to think I have a third ear for music.  I was sitting in a friends living room recently while his iTune’s Genius was mixing us some tunes.  There were some songs playing that I had never heard before and the occasional beat would steal my attention from the conversation.  Although some of the music was unfamiliar, I was able to pin the artist(s) within just a few seconds once they started singing.

Michael Stipe, REM, Voice, Spit and Mud, New Years

Michael Stipe - Image Courtesy Wikimedia

Whether his Genius mix played Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine, The Avett Brothers, U2 or REM, I really didn’t need to know their whole catalog to identify who the band was.  It’s because their lead singer uses an instrument unlike any other: their voice.

It’s been about 3 months since the news first broke on their website, that REM is calling it quits.   Even for the non-fan, this group has been prolific enough to have several recognizable (if commercial) hits, from “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” to “Losing My Religion”.  However, more than just the tune itself, their songs are lent that same unclear, (some say mumbling) yet distinguishable voice of Michael Stipe.

Be it Bono, Robert Plant, Joe Cocker or John Fogerty, Janis Joplin, Annie Lenox and Karin Bergquist the voices of each define a unique experience for the song.

It’s been said that cover bands don’t change the world.  There’s a lot of things about a song that can be imitated, from the guitar solo to the cadence of the snare drum.  The one element that will never be completely duplicated are the voices.  There is just too much nuance, too much subtlety embedded in their vocal chords.  Their isn’t a voice like it in the past and their will not be one in the future.

Maybe singing isn’t your thing.  Simon Cowell has helped a lot of people discover that about themselves.  He’s also done a favor to many by encouraging them to find their own voice.  If someone was trying to sound too much like Britney, he would let them know.  Who would want to anyway?

In your context or vocation, there may not be a Cowell to steer you in another direction if you’re trying to sound too much like someone else.

No, you may never paint a masterpiece, write a bestseller or compete in the Olympics.  Maybe you teach kids to swim.  Maybe you direct social media for a small start-up.  Perhaps you preach every weekend to a congregation or write blog posts as a hobby.  No matter what you do, you have a voice that is inimitable.  No one accentuates words like you.  No one gives expression to their thoughts in the same way you do.  No one articulates their passions in the same manner.

I used to spend inordinate amounts of time looking at the kids ministries of other churches.  I would peruse their websites, go to their conferences and follow the blogs of their leaders.  I’m glad for their influence and their individuality but I am learning to find and celebrate my voice too.  Sometimes it’s raspier than theirs, sometimes not as refined or amplified but that’s ok.

The world already has its Michael Stipe and Robert Plant.  It already had its Shakespeare and it’s da Vinci.  We’ve heard from Billy Graham and Gandhi.  Now we need to hear from you and you need to hear from us.

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are you being the best parent you can be?

This is one of my favorite TED talks.  The speaker, Ric Elias, was in the front seat of Flight 1549 when it hit the Hudson river.  He talks about three things he learned while the plane crashed.  Listen to the third and most important thing he learned.  He was given the gift to see into the future and come back to live differently because of it.

the quickest way to lose your influence.

If you are in any position of leadership, you are in a position of influence.  The longevity of your influence is a direct result of your gratefulness for those you influence.  Klout can’t measure this.  Whether your followers are continents away, hidden behind a computer screen or invited into your living room on a weekly basis, they need to know you’re grateful.

The quickest way to lose your influence is to be ungrateful.

I lead a team of volunteers every single week in the care of children for our faith community.  There’s absolutely no way I could ever watch 150 kids, aged 0-10, by myself.  I need a team to do it.  If I could give each of them a salary, I would.  What I can give them, however, is specific, heartfelt thanks. Continue reading

don’t touch the signs.

Every Sunday morning at The Broadcast Group, a group of liars, dreamers and misfits gather to set up sacred spaces for adults and children alike.  This process is sometimes easy, sometimes draining but always worth it.  We descend upon the former seat of Jim Bakker‘s empire and transform it into a place of hope and redemption.

Creating a space where children will feel welcome and comfortable is certainly a challenge where they weren’t thought of to begin with.  The architects of this building probably never imagined that moms and dads would navigate behind curtains, through hallways and around corners hoisting a diaper bag, infant and car seat.

For that same reason, we set up signs and banners every Sunday to help guide families for the journey of parking lot to seat. Every week, these signs travel a different course with a different destination depending on whose hands carry them.  Every week, I manage to touch and move them whether that’s two inches or two feet.  I’ll straighten them up or swivel them to face a certain door.  I just can’t keep my hands off of them.

Even yesterday, while sitting in my seat and listening to the sermon, the banner to my immediate left wouldn’t stop calling my name, begging me to “touch it”.  Previously, I’ve already betrayed my obsession with perfectionism.  I’m like the store manager before the store opens, rotating every can of food to face out, smoothing out the wrinkled shirts and straightening the books.

For about 9 months now, ever since we began the Ft. Mill campus, I’ve touched those signs and banners.

Yesterday was different.

Yesterday, I decided I would let those same liars, dreamers and misfits put the signs where they thought they should go.  I decided I wouldn’t touch the signs.  For some personality types, this probably seems incredibly trivial.  In fact, I wouldn’t even argue that point.

However, for type-A, OCD folks like myself this isn’t easy.  You see, it’s easier to manipulate a sign than to love a person.  Sometimes, it’s easier to rotate a banner or lock a door or hide behind a computer than to simply listen and embrace another.  An inanimate object will always bend to my illusion of control.  If my (or your) frustration stems from that illusion, it’s time to step back.

Can I do both?  Can I love people well and adjust signs at the same time?  Yes, of course I can.  Will I adjust those signs next week?  I probably will.  The difference is that I won’t let them adjust me.  I won’t let the misplacement of a sign, a banner, a toy or a rug misplace my affections for a people hungry for righteousness.

OK, I’m ready for next week.  Bring on the signs.