Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Story Unfolding, Track 6: Skipping Like a Stone

This is the sixth of 7 daily posts about the songs on my first solo EP, Story Unfolding. It will be for sale on Bandcamp starting January 27, 2013. Before the official release, you can listen to samples on Reverb Nation.

Two years ago I traveled to India. It was my first overseas experience. Ever. And it was a good one. I was part of a team from my church, and while there we worked with missionaries in northern India, staying in a large town but going out into surrounding smaller towns during the day to share our testimony with people we met. It is recent enough that I can still recall many things from the trip vividly, including the smells of the city, auto-rickshaws and loud car horns, spicy biryani and interesting street vendor foods, and laughter and music and prayer with the local missionaries.

Being a stranger in a strange land is a little unsettling. It was hard not knowing the language, and our pre-trip training was filled with the sort of information that points out the worst situations, most of which never occur: watch out for pickpockets; beggars are usually working for someone else; if asked where you're from, don't lie but don't tell them your life story or where you're staying; etc. So you arrive on edge, anxious, worried that everyone is out to get you. 

It's not true. I met the most wonderful and warm and friendly people, both in the villages and in the city. One of our party did lose his wallet, I guess, which might have been stolen from him in a busy marketplace. But overall the people I encountered were hospitable and kind, and more interested in helping a stranger than taking advantage of one.

We stayed at a hotel in the city. The first time we arrived, I was startled to see a tall bearded man in a dark blue turban standing by the doorway, with a short-barreled shotgun. He had the kind of face that makes you suddenly feel the urge to stare at your shoelaces. A deep scowl, and dark eyes. I soon learned that he was a Sikh, and he was security for the hotel. Which somehow didn't make me feel that secure. Again: stranger in a strange land. Anxiety that was unfounded, but came with the experience.

Every single time I went in or out of the hotel, there he was. Guarding. Pacing. Staring at passersby. Making me feel nervous. Until one day...

Several of us were coming back to the hotel at the same time, and as we walked in, there he sat at his post. Someone in our group -- maybe me, but maybe not -- made eye contact with him and smiled. It was a simple thing, and a custom of our country, if not of his.

And he smiled back at us. It was like seeing an magician pull a rabbit out of a hat. The hard lines of a scowl and glaring eyes were replaced with rows of white teeth and crows' feet wrinkles. He could have been a different person, such was the change of his countenance. It was amazing, and warming, and transforming.

We eventually got a picture with him. He turned out to be an incredibly friendly guy.

All that to say, we often misjudge people we come across. We can't help it, and I'm not writing this to make us feel guilty. We just all come from different experiences, different levels of understanding or ignorance. Hopefully we recognize our own biases and can at least consciously work against them.

For example, I had a moment a while back when I was reading from the book of James in the Bible, and it occurred to me that I had conjured a character in my head that was a personification of James. His voice was solemn, and he sat hunched over some sort of table, writing the letter, painstakingly committing each word to parchment to carry his message to others. His eyes had bags under them, and he had a beard that came to a point at his chin, and a mustache. He wore a kind of robe. He looked tired, and serious, and old.

Then it occurred to me: where does this character come from? Why do I picture an old man whose life is draining away in a room somewhere? Why, when I read this short letter, do I think of someone so serious and silent?

What if James wasn't like that at all?

What if James splashed in mud puddles, and smiled at children? What if he'd just as soon skip a flat stone across a pond as write a letter? What if he lived a life of joy and laughter, because he understood how it's all connected, and how God is at the center of it all?

What if his opening line, "Consider it pure joy," was really the condition and attitude of his heart?

That's what "Skipping Like a Stone" is about. I wrote this song on the idea that James might have been the friendliest, warmest guy you'd ever know. A defender of the faith with strong words of correction, but also a man of laughter, friendship and encouragement.

When I read James now, the character in my head can't be found in the dark room at the table.

He must be out taking a stroll on the beach.

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