Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What If Susan Boyle Had Flopped?

Susan Boyle is this year's Paul Potts. The charm that makes her story of greater interest is that the story is not simply her story, but it is the story of the audience, of which we are a part. Her story is a commentary on our capacity to judge people based on mere appearances.

Call me cynical, but I have trouble believing that we'll actually change much despite the massive cultural discussion that is going on. What is remarkable about the discussion is that people from different philosophical and theological schools of thought all seem to agree that we should be shamed into understanding that there is more to a person than mere appearance. There are no great debates over the substance of the story. The media has fabricated a debate over whether she ought to have a makeover. This only serves to demonstrate the shallowness of the media and the participation in this debate only reinforces my observation that we're really not going to change much.

But I'd like to make a larger observation.

Susan Boyle sings well. She has years of experience, but apparently no appreciable training to hone and refine her talent. Even still, talent matters less than heart. Let me 'splain:

I knew a girl who sang very well. Her voice was pure and her heart was large. People loved to hear her sing because they could hear her heart in her music. She went off to college as a music major and took years of lessons. Everyone had such high hopes for her. Well, she's a professional now. She has her master’s degree in music of some sort and is an opera singer. However, the people who used to love to hear her sing are disappointed. Her talent is exceptional and her training has elevated her into greatness, but her heart is gone. She has an audience who appreciates the technical aspects of her performance, but the audience that loved her a child may never again hear her heart sing.

I'm a musician and can appreciate good talent. As one who loves to worship God, I can say that talent is no substitute for heart. I have heard people sing who had difficulty staying on key or who lacked control, but I have been moved to tears nonetheless because their heart was perfectly in tune with the Master's. When you listen with the Spirit, you can tell, because the Spirit resonates with himself.

People have been taken aback because they do not view Susan Boyle as being particularly visually attractive, but have found beauty in another external affix. But her musical talent is still only an external affix. it's not unlike when you take a man weathered by hard work and put a suit on him. The women in his life may ooh and aah and say how handsome he is and how well he cleans up. Why don't they have such affection when he comes in from working hard dirty, sweaty and sunburned? He's no different except that he's washed and changed his clothes. His heart hasn't changed at all. I suspect that Susan Boyle has some beauty in her heart. She's also a sinner like the rest of us. She's no different whether she can sing or not.

Let me say that again: She's no different whether she can sing or not, which leads me to ask this question:

What would the world have done if Susan Boyle flopped that night?

Has the world been kind to the Susan Boyles of the world? Justice condemns based on behavior. Justification forgives based on faith. It can be said that Susan was justified based on her behavior, but the audience - us - WE would have condemned her based on her appearance and her lack of talent. Therefore, Susan was not justified; she was accorded some temporary justice because she sang her way out of a bad rep because of her appearance.

To be sure, I don't find Susan Boyle unattractive. There are many Hollywoodish "hotties" that I find repulsive because of their attitudes, but Susan seems to have a decent heart and I wouldn't have a different opinion if she couldn't sing very well.

Let me observe this, that we make the same mistakes with the people in our lives, work and churches. We all know the popular people who are physically beautiful, personable or who have great musical talent. Do we judge their heart based on such factors as these? I's wager that we do so more often than not. I knew a fellow who seemed personable. He was also musically talented. People loved to hear him sing in church and many thought a lot of him. But it was all a ruse. He had an affair that found out and ended up leaving his family. I know a former minister who was asked to preach far and wide until it was found that he was abusive to his family.

Do we judge people because they behave well when we fail to engage in the social means to know their hearts better? Where our churches in the west have failed is that we have not gone the extra mile to know the hearts of those to whom and with whom we minister. The culture is increasingly prohibitive of it. May we look beyond the appearance, and even the musical talent, of the Susan Boyles of this world and seek out the image of God hidden in the hearts of others.

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