You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody - Pt. 1
Updated: Jan 3, 2019
On a professional note, some of what I’m about to say may seem a little counter-intuitive. After all, as a sound engineer and audio visual consultant, the industry I work in thrives on the introduction of newer, better, faster, fancier technologies. That is, of course, if you believe all the hype that shiny new gear is somehow always the answer. But if I may be so bold as to be honest on this Christmas Day, gear is just a component - a factor in a much larger equation. At the center of it all, there must be passion and purpose. All the fanciest gear in the world cannot generate those qualities. Because they are qualities of the human heart.
On a personal note, the following message may seem a bit out of character because I have strived for many years to keep my own personal beliefs (spiritual, political, etc) to myself. But, the purpose of this blog is to challenge norms and broaden horizons - even my own. So here goes..
On any given Sunday morning these days, you can find me at the sound board of a large, beautiful, modern church facility mixing a 10-piece contemporary worship band full of beautiful and talented musicians playing the popular Christian worship songs of today on a big stage supported by state of the art professional sound, lighting, and video production systems. Given my background in large-scale concert touring with major secular and CCM acts, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting - albeit, at times, challenging - gig. It has been a great experience and a huge blessing for my family, too. I’m so grateful that I now get to do what I love in a local environment that, not only encourages excellence and service, but recognizes them as valuable facets of worship.
After years of working for major pop, rock, and country artists, where the stakes were so high and the competition so great, I am relieved to be free of the toxic culture that surrounds many of those modern day idols. I’m relieved to be free of the implied pressure to worship at their pop-culture altars. I’m also relieved to be free of the constant external pressure to perform at my best (or else be sent home in shame). I never responded well to that type of “inspiration” anyway. After all, I have been blessed with my own internal drive - that unique Apaulo-propulsion system. At times I am driven to give too much of myself, other times I am driven nearly to madness, but I am thankful that I am daily held accountable to perform at my best by that internal engine - ever striving for excellence. I find that my drive is only increased when the fruits of my labor are not simply for the glorification of an artist’s image or the temporary boost of their record sales, but in the service - and ultimately the worship - of One whose Love I am only beginning to understand at this stage of my journey.
If you had told me 10 years ago I would one day write the paragraph above, I probably would’ve scoffed. Following my defiant exit from the Catholic church as a teenager, I spent my twenties chasing the rock ’n roll dragon, all the while claiming agnosticism, and eventually kicking the tires of Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism before baby-stepping my way back to the Christian faith in my thirties. For years I knew nothing about true service or worship. Once aware of the concepts, I spent a lot of time being confused and even annoyed by them. But, in the last couple of years - thanks to good teachers and a real community of Believers - I’ve come to an understanding and even a peace about a lot of things I used to be confused or annoyed by - especially in the realm of Christian theology and ministry. I still battle my knee-jerk reactions to things that smack of “churchiness” and I am very wary of the ever blurring lines between entertainment and ministry; but I’ve learned that acts of service and worship can come in all shapes and sizes, and that forms of worship music can be equally as varied. From the rattling tambourines and out of tune pianos of the backwoods churches of Appalachia to the slickest stages of the modern metropolitan mega-temples and anywhere in between where two or more are gathered in His name, acts of true service and worship may look and sound very different. However, one thing should remain the same. Any genuine act of worship should be an act of the heart, made with total surrender and selflessness - quite possibly the most difficult of all human feats to achieve. No wonder I - and so many others - struggle with the notion.
And struggle I did, until a little over a year ago when I was blessed to hear a man named Neil Kennedy speak. He blew my mind with his concepts of “Breaking the Break-Even Mentality” and “Connecting Your Work to Your Worship”. At that time I was working a secular job at a liberal arts institution with a boss I didn’t respect, and I was very proud of my ability to always break even - so Neil’s concepts took a few days to settle in. Once they did, everything began to change. I began to practice a new attitude and approach at work - trying to keep my mind focused on doing a good job - not for my boss or even myself, but for God who has created us all for a higher purpose than most of us realize. Things began to change quickly. Parts of my life that had long seemed frozen began to thaw. New opportunities arose and I was soon lead away from the job that wasn't working out and back to my passion project - Apaulo Productions. I often say, its a good thing I love what I do, because I do it ALL the time! Lately it seems like I’m always on duty. I’m the soundguy at church, at the art center, at the historic site, at the rock concert, at the Christmas play, even at the dinner party. When I’m not mixing, I’m consulting, installing, and inspecting AV systems or working on guitars - and I love it!
Yet, even after an amazing, fruitful year that saw so many chains broken and doors opened, I still found myself feeling a bit winded and ready for an end of the year break from it all - even the work I love and the opportunities for service and worship that I have come to cherish as part of my regular work week. I needed a break from the gadgets and gear. I needed a break from the relentless scrutiny of my own ears (and others’). I needed a break from being the sound guy - PERIOD. I needed to be reminded of why I go to extremes for my clients and my family, even when it seems that the details aren’t appreciated or even noticed at all.
And so, on this most recent Sunday morning, deep in a frosty holler of southwest Virginia, in a tiny country church with no digital audio consoles, in-ear monitors, intelligent lights, or tv cameras, I was reminded by the humble voice of an elderly gentleman and his acoustic guitar that - even in a world strung out on the drama that DC and Hollywood are dealing daily, even in a world full of injustice and strife, even in a world where not all is well - when given the opportunity - God still moves in the lives and the hearts of his beloved creation - mankind. Forget Hillsong. This was Honakersong. That is, worship music from the heart of Honaker Church of God in Honaker, VA (population 1500).
In a world so dependent upon technology and so full of glitzy and glittery distractions (especially at Christmas time), we would all be wise to remember that the condition of our heart is the only thing that really matters. It is the condition of our heart that determines whether our words will ring true, whether our deeds will be deemed worthy, whether the seeds we’ve planted will bear fruit. It is the condition of our heart that determines whether our gifts will be appreciated, whether our songs will echo with resounding joy, whether our worship will be authentic. Indeed, it is the condition of our heart that makes or breaks the servant - and thus, the worshipper - in us all. And so, this Christmas, I was reminded of why I give my all in everything I do. Because I love what I do and I love those for whom I get to do it. And I especially love He who created me to do it!
Bob Dylan said it well:
“You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
After decades on the run, and years more on the fence, I know I’ve made my choice.
I pray this Christmas that you’ll make yours, too.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
No matter what your religious or spiritual views and practices may be, I hope you found some meaning in this message. I enjoyed writing it. I look forward to expressing myself in the future on a myriad of topics - mostly professional, but occasionally personal. I hope you’ll join me!