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The discussion in my last post about Susan Boyle’s performance caused an old Harry Chapin song to pop into my head. As a lyricist, Chapin was a superlative storyteller, and his song Mr. Tanner is one that stirred my heart and emotions many years ago. The song concerns an amateur singer from Dayton, Ohio, a cleaner by trade, who sang simply for the joy of singing. However, after extensive urging from friends, he agreed to try to launch a professional career by performing in a concert hall debut in New York. I’ll let Mr. Chapin tell you the rest of the story. In the studio recording and live performances, the chorus of O Holy Night is sung in a beautiful baritone as a background to each chorus of Mr. Tanner.

Mister Tanner was a cleaner from a town in the Midwest.
And of all the cleaning shops around he’d made his the best.
But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes.
He practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.
His friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat.
They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang;
It just made him whole.

His friends kept working on him to try music out full time.
A big debut and rave reviews, a great career to climb.
Finally they got to him, he would take the fling.
A concert agent in New York agreed to have him sing.
And there were plane tickets, phone calls, money spent to rent the hall.
It took most of his savings but he gladly used them all.

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang;
It just made him whole.

The evening came, he took the stage, his face set in a smile.
And in the half filled hall the critics sat watching on the aisle.
But the concert was a blur to him, spatters of applause.
He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.
But the critics were concise, it only took four lines.
And no one could accuse them of being over kind.

(spoken) Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his Town Hall debut last night.
He came well prepared,
But unfortunately his presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it consistently interesting.
(sung) Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.

He came home to Dayton and was questioned by his friends.
Then he smiled and just said nothing and he never sang again.
Excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.

Music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang;
It just made him whole.

Click the link below for a great performance of this song by Harry Chapin less than a year before his death in July of 1981.

Chill bumps and tears; lots and lots of tears. That is how I reacted when I watched the video clip of Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream” on the British television show Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle’s audition for the show was recorded in January of this year in Glasgow, Scotland, and her performance was aired a couple of weeks ago on April 11. Since then, it is estimated that over 100 million people worldwide have viewed her stirring rendition of the song on YouTube.

Boyle strode non-elegantly onto the stage and stumbled awkwardly through her introductory dialogue with the judges. The camera swept through the audience and found people rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in disbelief as this rather frumpy, middle-aged woman spoke of her aspirations of becoming a professional singer. The atmosphere in the auditorium was thick with skepticism, with trace amounts of pity and embarrassment thrown in as well. Or so it was until the backing tape began and Boyle began to sing. In the mere span of two bars of the song, jaws went slack, eyes welled up with tears, and the crowd rose to its feet with thunderous applause, both in appreciation for Boyle’s remarkable gift and in shame for their own shallowness and superficiality in judging another human being solely by her appearance. Even Simon Cowell, infamous for his cynicism and biting sarcasm, was won over by the clarity, purity, and power of her voice.

When will we ever learn! When will I ever learn! Having a disabled son has greatly sensitized me to how quickly and cruelly people can cast a look, make a face, or utter some inane comment (don’t get me started!) just because someone looks or acts a little differently than “normal,” whatever that is. Yet, I still walked right into the “Boyle Trap” with everyone else. I was so proud of her, and so ashamed of myself. My Savior has tried to teach me, “Don’t judge according to appearance” (John 7:24). God had to explain to Samuel that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). I don’t know about you, but I am still trying to “get it.”

As moved as I was by Susan Boyle’s performance, I later wondered how I and others would feel about her if she couldn’t sing a note. Does she only have value to us as a person now because of her amazing talent, because of what she can do, and do extremely well? What about her intrinsic value as a person created in the image of God, a person who bravely endured bullying and name-calling in school, and a person who lovingly cared for her mother until her death two years ago at the age of 91. “Lord, please help me; help me to get it!”

(Tim’s BA bulletin article, 4-26-09)

This is my inaugural post in a whole new medium for me. I have visited the blogs of others for quite some time now, not with religious regularity, but with a significant level of interest and a fair amount of frequency. Several times in the past I have thought, “I would really like a forum of my own to periodically share thoughts, feelings, and insights.” I guess two things have stopped me. First, I didn’t think I had the time. I am still not sure that I do, but I have resolved to “make time” for a while and see how it goes. Second, I wasn’t sure that others would even be interested in whatever happened to be bouncing around in my brain or dwelling in my heart. I am still not sure about that one either, but neither am I sure that it even matters. I think that my need and my desire to share exists independently of whatever level of interest may or may not dwell among others.

My goal is to post at least every week, with the option of posting more frequently if the inspiration strikes me. I don’t want the site to become static. Neither do I want to feel enslaved by it or somehow obligated to provide daily or on-the-hour updates about the minutiae of my life. All of us have more important things to do than that!

I may share adapted or edited articles that I write for the weekly bulletin at the Broken Arrow Church of Christ, or perhaps things that I have written in the past. I may post thoughts about current events. I may post prayers that I have prayed, or answers that God has provided. I may just share quotations, stories, or lyrics that I have found to be meaningful. I will likely share periodic insights into the journey and transition that I have been going through over the last nine months: things I have learned, changes I have made, blessings I have received, and milestones I have not yet reached.

Thanks for journeying with me as I think out loud.

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April 2009