I rose fairly early to attend the 8:30 service of the church to which we belong. I usually attend the 11:00 service, because I prefer the traditional hymns to the modified
Tin Pan Alley songs that sometimes show up at the 8:30 "contemporary" services. My own definition of "contemporary" would involve a lot more instrumentals with cool drones,
but I suppose that I am, in this as in so many things, somewhat out of step with my community.
I must admit that the pop songs were pretty darn listenable this morning. It's true that sometimes I wonder whether anyone would really want to be serenaded with a hymn of praise whose lyrics are a bit on the cloying side. At least with the traditional songs, people are doing cool things like wishing they had a 1,000 tongues with which to sing praises, or looking at nature and extolling the greatness of its creator, or fantasizing
about how after even 10,000 years in Heaven, they'd still want to sing of grace. I think singing of grace for millenia is better than singing Brill building lyrics which use "awesome" and "totally" a lot.
But I must not let the curmudgeon in me surface too much, because I actually enjoyed the chance to sing along to good melodies in easy unison, and the song leaders were gifted at the craft. Besides, the 3 year old who figured out through serendipity that he could bring down the house by yelling "Yeah!!" at the end of each hymn was worth a 1,000 pop songs for 10,000 years.
Rarely experienced delights continued. This morning I found myself leading the lesson at our Sunday school class at church. I don't think of myself as a natural religious guide, nor do I think that the Sunday school language of todays' religious materials, which err, to me, a bit on the side of "enthusiasm", are particularly worthy of extended elaboration here. I do have an innate wish that I were licensed to give sermons, but I lack altogether the sanctity and call to do so. I just feel sometimes like I'd like to say my two cents. I expiate this wish on long hikes with old friends and through constant self-dialogue. I like to think it's a better way. I think that the world has too little praying in closets, in general, and too much tele-evangelism fund-raising.
But there was one concept we discussed today that, though religious in foundation, applies, I think, regardless of creed. It's the notion of a difference between a talent and a gift.
So many people feel that they have a talent, a skill at x or y grand thing. But the talent, to me, gains its "legs" and begins to run when it is a "gift", something freely shared with others. I don't mean "free" in economic terms--I certainly don't any problem with selling the fruit of one's talents. I mean "free" in terms of getting out there and
doing. A talented novel in a drawer is not a gift--it's just unrealized potential. That same novel read to three people at a coffee shop is a gift.
Conversely, so many people feel that they have no talent. This very moment, as my on-line Scrabble score stands at +0 -3, I have a feeling not unusual to me that I lack any particular talent at anything. I'm a good lawyer, for example, but not because I am necessarily a "natural talent" for it, but because I work hard at using the skills I have (a kind of cleverness, a very good head for business, intuitiveness, a willingness to work) to serve my clients. I'm a good chess player by comparison to the great mass of chess players, but not a "talented" chess player at all. My rating is solid but not at all indicative of any particular "talent" for the game, but only of an interest in the game. In athletics I frequently worked my way up to starter by the last year of my participation in any sport, but I never showed any particular talent for any sport.
I learned in the past six weeks in graphic detail that (a) I lack any singing talent; (b) I cannot compose a pop song; and (c) I have an ear which cannot easily detect pitch and key.
Yet everyone has a gift. Some of the least "talented" people I know are the staunchest friends. Some of the least socially adept people I know have integrity they use to help others. Some who can teach rather than do, even though their talent would let them "do" admirably.
The history of the past twelve decades or so is filled with people who showed a gift even when their personal skills, opportunities, and resources are less than those available to others.
The national public library system flourished and spread not because of governments, scholars and intellectuals, but because women in clubs, despite being unable to vote, and in some states unable to own property, worked tirelessly to direct community resources towards ensuring that the library system was not available only to a privileged few. Labor reform arose from workers' groups and church groups who pressed for changes and won, despite having limited resources when they began.
We live in a time in which institutions fail. I suspect that every time was a time in which institutions failed. I am a social liberal, but not a believer that the big edifices of government, church, corporations, and even organized "counterculture" make that big a difference. I believe instead in people who work to give themselves and their resources towards targeted activities. In this pursuit, I am not sure that the race goes to the swiftest (i.e., the most "talented") as to the most sure (i.e., the tortoise of effort focused in the right direction).
I realize as I work through this that I can self-assess which gifts I have to offer, and then seek ways to use my strengths to help spread the compaassion about a bit, like so much rye grass seed intended to green over the winter bleakness.
In the meantime, though, I have a crock pot full of salmon, potato, baby carrots and
a zucchini. I have a cake mix and a can of pumpkin, ready to later try crock-pot baking a healthy cake. I have e mails from two Scrabble clubs in my area, offering me chances for live play of a game at which I am deadly amateur. I have a world of things to think about--and think I shall. But I resolve not to merely think, but to do, and to give.