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noun: virtuosity
great skill in music or another artistic pursuit.

Clapton. Page. Hendrix. Beck. Howe. Allman. Gilmore. You didn’t have to go far in the early 70’s to find legendary guitarists. The greats make it look so easy, too. So, you get a guitar and take a few lessons.

Then you realize you could practice for a zillion hours and never front Cream or the Yardbirds or Zeppelin or The Allman Brothers or Pink Floyd. This is where most guys put their pawn shop guitar back in the closet and move along to whatever else they’d rather do.

Some folks don’t put the guitar up, though. For example, a blue-collar kid from Queens loved music. He wanted to be in a rock band. He picked up a used guitar for $54 he earned from his plumbing gig. So, he did what he could with what little he knew. His technique was weird: All downstrokes and barre chords up and down the neck of the guitar and fastball speed. He writes a few fastball bluesy Beatles-esque songs and…

…at the risk of being all Paul Harvey sappy…

…John Cummings became Johnny Ramone and stepped into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone said he was #16 on their list of the greatest guitarists of all time. Time said he was the 10th best of the electric era. Rumor has it that some of those same legendary guitarists can’t replicate what he did.

See, Johnny Ramone created his own virtuosity…and encouraged any other kid who wasn’t born with unprecedented talent or a zillion extra hours available to become as close as you could get. He just picked up his guitar and did it with his own flair. He made it his very own.

And when it comes to the spiritual life, well, I have the tendency to look at the “virtuosos” who make it look so easy and put my own pawn shop guitar of a walk with God back in the closet. Early on, I looked at my pastor and youth pastor. In college there was a small group leader and a friend. Later it was seminary professors and a co-worker or two I’ve been blessed to be on church staffs with. If I lived a zillion hours I’d never be “as spiritual as they are.”

Since I started praying through Psalms in 2015, it’s all come flooding back when I see the words of King David.

Like in Psalm 1. He says things like “His delight is in the law of the Lord. He mediates on it day and night.”
Me? Delight isn’t exactly how I’d say I respond to what I see in the Word. I’m not even sure that “wrestling” with it is accurate. It’s more of an MMA match in the Octagon, looking for loopholes and exit portals.

And meditate day and night? Every now and then I can muster up thinking about something in the Bible, but once the grind of the day starts I tend to lose the verse I was supposed to concentrate on that I read that morning. Earlier in 2015, I couldn’t remember the verse in the shower that I’d read less than half an hour earlier. Walking through the day viewing the world around me through Kingdom eyes? Yikes.

Like Psalm 2. David responds to God having full-authority over, well, everything, but especially his life and circumstances by saying things like, “change the way you think, rejoice in worship, and let the world see that your life and words line up.”

Me? Well, my Gen-X leanings of distrust of authority with an extra steroid injection of punk cause my eyebrows to rise and ask things like the rich young ruler: “Well, who is my neighbor?” As if I hauled off and loved someone who wasn’t my neighbor would be a bad things. And more on rejoicing in worship in a bit.

Like Psalms 3 & 4 where he is being chased by enemies set on killing him…and he talks about how he knows God hears his prayers and receives them. And trusts that God is his shield and provider and will smite his enemies. He sleeps like a baby and gets rest in the midst of it all.

Me? I have this nagging feeling that my prayers aren’t heard and struggle with the ask…and obviously the answer is very much in doubt. I can toss and turn all night wondering about where the money for the car repair is gonna come from or by inventing scenarios of whether or not we’re covered by earthquake insurance (a little nuance in our city as of late). I can’t imagine a world where I tried to grab a few winks hiding out in a cave.

Like Psalm 5. He trusts God as a reliable guide to show him the right path.

Me? I’m not even sure I’m walking anywhere, much less even looking for the right path. Most of the time, I just cruise along doing my thing and figure that I’ve pretty much got this. I’ve got goals and gifts and my own plan to get there. The idea that there’s a path I’m supposed to be on and just be faithful with the next step goes against my long-range thinking. And that trusting God thing? You’d think I’d have learned that lesson already but I like me and trust me.

Like Psalm 9 & 10 (which might actually be one Psalm). The bad guys seem to win. The world is a tough place on the have-nots. But, David will be happy and rejoice. He will sing. He will tell others about God’s good works. Why not? God’s on His throne, in complete control, the bad guys will get what’s coming to them and the have-nots will eventually have, right?

Me? I see what David sees, for sure at my mission job, even if my suburban lifestyle doesn’t appear to have the oppression stuff on the surface (yes, I have some thoughts on other types of oppression we face, but that’s another blog). I just tend to forget the end-game. So, sometimes it becomes a shoulder shrug existence of whaddya gonna do? And, as an added bonus, I tend to not only be a “glass-half-empty” kind of person, most days I see the water as dirty and the glass leaking anyway. Singing? Yeah, I don’t sing as a response to much of anything. Tell of the King’s Good Works? If the time is right and I won’t come across as looking as a cliched stereotype I might. Rejoicing? I’m not even sure what that looks like most days. Most days what I know to be true doesn’t influence what I feel is true at any given moment.

So, lately it seems like I’m looking at David’s virtuosity as a man after God’s own heart (warts, big time, yes, but still a virtuoso) and seeing all those ways I’m not that…and maybe never will be that.


…for today, in faith, I’ll pick up my guitar, play a few downstrokes, maybe add a few upward and some picking and some hammer-ons. But it won’t go in the closet. I’ll take my weird technique, do what I can with what little I know, add a little of my own flair. I’ll let God make it His own. We’ll see what it looks like later, I guess. But spiritual growth is a slow business…

…that feels like it takes a zillion hours.