Pastoral Reflections on Traffic Court
3rd Sunday in Easter

Reflections on Susan Boyle

The week after Easter is a slow week for America's pastors, so I've been able to find the time to watch the You Tube video of Susan Boyle's audition for "Britain's Got Talent" a couple of dozen times.  I'm not alone, apparently, because something like 11 million people have seen the video now.  The Washington Post had her picture on the front page this morning and her story inside the A section. 

In case you haven't heard, Susan is a 47-year-old Scottish woman who doesn't look like a superstar.  American Idol and similar shows thrive on contestants like her--they provide the comic relief and give the viewing audience the guilty pleasure of laughing at someone who obvious has no sense of just how badly they are embarrassing themselves.  But Susan didn't embarrass herself on the show.  She is a really solid singer and she so surprised the judges and the audience that people were on their feet cheering by the end of her song.

There have been some good comments about Susan Boyle, on NPR and elsewhere, along the lines of "why is it news that frumpy middle-aged women can sing"?  But my response to her video goes beyond the "don't judge a book by its cover" surprise.  Susan doesn't just have a good voice.  She somehow is able to muster the confidence, in front of 4,000 people, to let that voice out and to sing with her whole heart.  And she does that from the first note--there's not a tentative moment in her whole performance.  I love to see that, and I LOVE to see the response from all three judges who allow her performance to crack something open in them as well.

Now, I admit that I'm not exactly the hardest one to sell on a story like this.  I love those movies about the underdog who come out of nowhere are shines for everyone to see when it really matters (Miracle and Billy Elliot are two of my all-time favorite movies).  But I like these movies for theological reasons which makes me feel just a little bit less sheepish about it.  I really do believe that everyone has a bit of divine spark in them (as my high-school hero R. W. Emerson put it).  I really do believe that God calls each of us to discipleship, and when we really open ourselves to that call, God shines out through our work, our play, our lives. 

And what's more, when someone has the opportunity to witness a moment of genius, a moment of divine inspiration, that person has a chance to recognize God active and alive in the world and to celebrate.  At KC we sometime refer to "God within, between us and beyond us".  I believe that witnessing someone truly living into their call is a moment of revelation of all three--God within, between and beyond. 

Is it making too much of things to say that's what we're witnessing when we watch Simon Caldwell's response to Sarah Boyle's first few notes?  Probably, but on the week after Easter I susceptible to implausible assertions.  It's hard to be cynical these days when there is so much blooming in the world.

But I do have to issue one caveat before I end.  Sometimes we aren't called--we're just kidding ourselves.  And that really is embarrassing to witness.  I remember the woman who used to "sing" opera in the Davis Square subway station outside of Boston.  She sang her heart out many mornings down there ("Somewhere" from West Side Story was one of her specialties) but she was so horribly off key that it hurt to listen to her.  God may have been in her at that moment, but I have to believe that if she had listened to the divine within, she would have shut up and sat down.  Discernment of call is essential--and tremendously difficult.


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Chris Beyer

Yeah, amazing performance. Your post reminds me of the movie, "Mystery Alaska" where a very serious small town hockey team is challenged to play against the New York Rangers. I like the movie because (spoiler alert) the message is not that the most important thing is for the underdog to have won, but to have played well. The risks amateurs take when confronting these challenges can be deadly; at one point someone advises against the competition, saying that the team has always had two things, their illusions and their dignity, both of which they could lose. It really does take courage, as well as critical self assessment.

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