Every sailor knows that the sea, Is a friend made enemy, And every shipwrecked soul knows what it is, To live without intimacy, I thought I heard the captain’s voice, But it’s hard to listen while you preach, Like every broken wave on the shore, This is as far as I could reach…
Every Breaking Wave by U2
Julian Treasure, author of “How To Be Heard” had me from the opening paragraph when he told of his early years as a novice musician. “Becoming a musician was the natural next step, and my parents were tolerant enough to buy my first drum kit and bear the pounding from my bedroom as I tried to emulate heroes like John Bonham and Bill Bruford” (Treasure, 7). Bruford was from the band Yes and Bonham was the iconic drummer from Led Zeppelin.
I too had parents that bought my first drum set (a pearl white Ludwig Rocker II), and I too jammed in my bedroom to the rhythms of my heroes. In my particular case it was to Louie Weaver from Petra and Larry Mullen, Jr from the band from the Northside of Dublin, U2.
And, like Treasure, I too, “after years of drumming in bands…have tinnitus, a ringing sound in the ears that becomes quite evident if I sit in very quiet places” (Treasure, 22). This only contributes to the old (and sometimes true) adage that drummers are both deaf AND dumb. Another adage is that “there are musicians and then there are drummers.”
I represent, I mean, resent those remarks. 🙂
Having played drums since I was about 12 years old, like many musicians, I have navigated through the four levels of learning that Treasure highlights on page 209. This model of learning has come up a number of times in our graduate degree discussions, and I find it immensely informative and illuminating.
- Unconscious Incompetence: we don’t know what we don’t know.
- Conscious Incompetence: we do know what we don’t know.
- Conscious Competence: we can do it, but only with real effort.
- Unconscious Competence: we can do it, almost instinctively.
I’ve had a number of opportunities to “jump on the drum kit” and play with a band or worship team, because the scheduled drummer didn’t show. I am able to do that with little effort nor preparation. I can function with an “unconscious competence” especially with the current overabundance of formulaic worship songs that pretty much all sound the same (let’s be honest!). A few years after I starting playing drums, I preached my very first Bible message. I was 16 years old, and it was for my youth group. I remember it like it was yesterday. I have been consistently, week in/week out, preaching the Bible now for 34 years. Even while on family vacation, because early on we were so broke, I would hustle up a preaching “gig” in order help pay for vacation expenses. I’ve done a lot of preaching over the years. Bono of U2, says in the song “Every Breaking Wave” that it is “hard to listen while you preach.” Treasure echoes this in saying “it’s hard to be a great, powerful speaker if you don’t listen, or to be a great listener if you can’t articulate your own thoughts” (Treasure, 10).
Transparently, many preachers like myself have been conditioned to speak well but not listen well. This is evidenced in the fact that the last few chapters in “How to be Heard” about speaking and “stagecraft” were old hat to me. I can do most of his recommendations in my sleep. It’s like the drummer that keeps pounding on the drumheads and cymbals with a relentless beat even when the song doesn’t call for it. We can, almost unconsciously, fall prey to what Treasure calls “The Four Leeches:” looking good, being right, pleasing people, and fixing (Treasure, 51). Call it an occupational hazard, call it whatever you want…sadly, preachers (like myself) feel like they are getting paid to have all the answers. Reminds me of the joke: “Pastors are paid to be good. Everyone else is good for nothing.” Come on, that’s funny!
So, through this reading, but more importantly, through this graduate degree, with it’s immensely high levels of “unconscious incompetence, as well as just the stage of life I am currently in, I am trying (emphasis upon trying) to be more quiet, and listen better. Just last Sunday, after multiple services, a small group of new believers approached and asked a question about something I said in my sermon. It had to do with a reference I made to the Apostle Paul and the “third heaven.” I had made a quick reference and gave very little context. I could see how they, as new believers, would be stumped by it. Admittedly, even seasoned believers are stumped by this one. After hearing their question, I simply said this: “I don’t know. I don’t know what the “third heaven” is. I probably shouldn’t even have mentioned it. It wasn’t even in my notes.” We chatted more, I tried to give a rambled explanation of what Paul might have been referring to, but in the end I just let them know that “I don’t know.” Then I asked them what they thought Paul might have meant, and those new believers gave it a good run.
Two days later, I got a text from the person that led most of those folks to the Lord, and she said that they were blown away by my willingness to say “I don’t know.”
I don’t know what I don’t know. Sometimes it’s OK to be unconsciously incompetent, as a drummer, as a preacher, as a human.