Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Lesson in the City

I don't really know what made me think of this, but I was remembering back to a Saturday afternoon several years ago, when I carried a violin case all over downtown San Francisco. The reactions I received were priceless.

I walked up and down the pier with the case slung over my shoulder. Random tourists walked up to me and asked me if I was studying at the conservatory. Not this year, I would respond. I didn't bother to tell them I never would.

I juggled that thing on and off the cable car. The brake man teased me about needing to purchase a ticket for the instrument, and when I refused, told me I would have to play a tune for the ride. Several passengers joined in. I just laughed. The case never opened.

I wandered passed street musicians with an assortment of pan pipes, guitars, and native drums. A little further a small band managed to drown out the sounds of city traffic. Further, a solitary musician poured out his soul in a haunting tune on the sax. As I walked by the musicians, each noticed me. Their eyes would dart to the case and then to me, and there was an unspoken appreciation, some sort shared camaraderie that no one else was even aware of.

The whole day went like that. The whole day, I was the only one that knew that the case I carried was empty. No one ever challenged me to open the case and show the instrument. No one ever asked me to play a few notes to prove my musicianship. They just assumed.

Before you think I'm completely crazy: No, I am not in the habit of carrying empty instrument cases through the city. It just so happens there is this cute little music store in San Francisco. It's called "Lark in the Morning." I needed a new case, something that would protect my instrument a little better than what I was currently using. And that purchase had been my first stop that Saturday afternoon.

The thing that struck me though, is that I liked it. I liked the facade. I liked that I was held in a higher esteem than I deserved. I liked the association, however superficial. But carting a case doesn't make a musician anymore than attending church makes a Christian.

The truth of the matter, I do own I violin. I have studied for a couple of years, but the illustration rings true even among the saved. We are so concerned about what other Christians will think of our spirituality. If someone asks me, I'll tell them I play the violin, but I won't play for them. I don't want them to hear where I'm at. As I write this, I can see the pride screaming back at me, and I think of the verse, "Comparing themselves among themselves, they make themselves stupid." (my translation) We'll tell people we pray, but we're hesitant to pray out loud lest someone hear our fumbling words. We'll say we have a close walk with God, we can't remember when what started as a sincere relationship drifted into a ritual. We'll claim we love God, but beg God not to put us to the test to prove that love. We'll grow frustrated at the slow process of sanctification in our own lives when we see how far we have to go or when we look at the work God is doing in someone else.

It was so easy to carry the case with confidence as long as no one knew the truth. But it wasn't real.


Daisy said... toes hurt.

So true, especially at a Christian school where you are safe in your Christianity and spiritual "level." Like on a video game, we think that once we've reached the level or achieved the title, we are always that close to the Lord. Then we make sinful choices and people are disappointed in us because they perceived us to be something much more than a sinner saved by grace.

Perception is not reality.

weedeater said...

It's fun to know some history of the case I now get to carry. It is that one, right? :)
I enjoyed the story and really like the application. I always feel like an empty case. People see a nice shiny case and don't know how much better the case looks outside than inside.
The knowledge that someone may challenge me to prove my 'musicianship' at any time is encouragement to fill the case. At the same time we should never feel our case is full because we can always strive for more substance in our Christian lives.

Heather said...

Yes, it's the same case. I like what you said about never feeling our case is full...does a musician ever achieve total mastery of an instrument? So the analogy expands. :)