Yesterday several of us had a day long rehearsal at Stoa Court in the house of Pete and Jackie B., where the hospitality and creativity flowed freely, as per usual. The songs that have been selected for the Love's Divine service at Common Table (on February 8 at 10 am, if yer interested) all require a great deal of vocal restraint. At which I suck. I tend to blast at full volume or sing as many Very High and Very Low notes as I can or do a lot of unnecessary vocal ornamentation... or all of the above. Perhaps it's part of a sort of Existential A.D.D., but I find it damned hard to just... sing. Yesterday, I had the distinct privilege of singing with Amanda O., whom I'd heard before, and who is vocally very restrained and floaty and light and all the things I'm not.
I'll be honest and say that I was both looking forward to and dreading this particular rehearsal. I was dreading it because in general, I just don't hold back very well in all things emotional, and it is both a blessing and curse. I anticipated an 8 hour lived extended metaphor for All the Ways that Wearing One's Heart On One's Sleeve is a Disadvantage. As it turned out, it wasn't that bad, and with some skillful and gentle coaching from Amanda, I think I figured out how to sing an Alanis Morissette song without sounding like Alanis Morissette. I also managed to pull off a Sade song, which I would never in my life have thought possible since she basically closes her mouth to sing.
Anyway, this post is not about singing, really. It's about restraint... in the sense of discipline, I guess. Pretty much everyone learns restraint from the time we're children... it's necessary in order to function normally... but then we spend the rest of our lives negotiating restraint, whether consciously or unconsciously. How much of ourselves do we reveal to others? Should we say what we think to our friend? Should I offer to help that lady who's clearly carrying too much stuff? or tell that guy that his shoe's untied? Where are the limits to our interactions with others? and where are the limits to our interactions with ourselves? Should I eat that? Should I sleep more? Am I working too much?
Over and over and over again, we are feeling out our limits and the limits of others. We make a lot of our choices of friendships, community, occupation, etc. based on these limits, on these ideas of too much and not enough... and I think that we respect and disrespect people almost solely on this criteria. Does their sense of restraint match mine? Does it exceed mine? Do they frighten me with their reserve or with their abandon, and do I find myself stimulated or intimidated by whatever fear they might incite in me? We articulate this internal negotiation in terms of ideals, morals, values, and I'm not saying that these aren't significant, but I think it really does come down to our sense of discipline, order, or lack thereof... of how important restraint really is to is, and in what areas we value restraint.
A while back, I reviewed a book called "Feel" by Matthew Elliott. I went back and read that again recently (the review... I've given the book to somebody, I think) and was again struck by the necessity of a thorough analysis of this in the Christian world. It is unnecessary to be handicapped by not understanding what we feel, and by not understanding how our vague notions of what is and isn't appropriate behavior (most of which are fundamentally felt, whether or not we then find rational justification for them) define how we make choices.
I think this is most essential in the church. Brian McLaren posted something yesterday that really saddened me... because the person who wrote to him doesn't understand that they are afraid, that their own sense of boundaries and restraint has been threatened. Being afraid for God literally makes no sense. God can take care of Himself (to put it mildly) and a more appropriate response for someone outraged by another's theology would be to appeal to God Himself for His defense, as the Psalmist so often did. This person went for McLaren's jugular to control their own fear without understanding the source, and thereby rendered themselves absurd, not to mention ineffective.
I'm not a relativist, but I honestly think the Rule Book is really rather small (in fact, I take Jesus literally when He said there were pretty much just two rules), and that most of the rules we use in daily life are necessary for us to function but could be scrapped in a pinch. I know that a lot of people see this standpoint as arrogance but I am hopeful that it is actually humility, an admission that all of us are simply children, looking to God who alone understands all things. and this is true of our notions of restraint. I wouldn't ask most people to willfully break their own rules or crash through their own notions of restraint because I think these rules are necessary on a cognitive level... but I absolutely think that everyone should be humble about their sense of what is and isn't correct. and that includes me.