Rebel With a Clarinet
- Phil Christenson Contributing Writer
- 2003 16 Mar
Miss Phoebe had attended our church since Ike was in office. Her hair was always up in the same bun, and her Sunday best was a high-button Victorian dress. She drove the same pickup truck for decades, never married, and lived with her widowed mother. We had gotten along well, but our relationship started to fracture when I began to explore worship renewal in the 1980's. In reaction to newer worship, Miss Phoebe bought a Lowry organ and had it delivered to the church sanctuary. The elders applauded her initiative as she took beginner lessons and began providing preludes. Soon, at 10:45 a.m., the auditorium was echoing with one-finger versions of "Bringing in the Sheaves" and "Whispering Hope." Miss Phoebe then purchased a Casio keyboard and set it along her electronic organ. Soon, she was preprogramming drums, strings and horns, and playing the Lowry over marching beats and unusual counter-melodies. I had become Worship Pastor and, in theory, was her supervisor, but it was a bit like supervising a cat; she largely ignored my input and expressed contempt of all things non-traditional. One Sunday morning, I heard a squawking noise. Had an injured bird made its' way into the building? No. Miss Phoebe was making her debut on the clarinet. Like finding animal shapes in the clouds, you could make out a melody similar to "The Old Rugged Cross." In the background, her Casio rattled out a trademark military rhythm and remarkable strings. That week I called on Miss Phoebe. After some small talk, I said softly, "You've been doing some very nice things on the organ and synthesizer." "And the clarinet," she added. "Miss Phoebe," I continued, "I think the keyboards are most effective for your preludes." "People tell me how much they love my clarinet." "People say a lot of things, Miss Phoebe," I said gently, "but I'm asking you to use the keyboards for prelude. The clarinet will be wonderful on talent night." It was an awkward moment, but that day Miss Phoebe deferred to the leadership God had placed over her. We prayed together. I realized that this was a major step, and thanked God for moving in her life. Fast-forward ahead ten years. Miss Phoebe's old-fashioned Gospel preludes -- now much improved -- were still a part of each morning service. The church had grown, and we were at the point of moving our Sunday services to a better facility. Miss Phoebe and her mother were terribly unhappy -- no, outraged -- about the coming move. The women lobbied angrily about the "destruction of their spiritual heritage." At 10:45 one Sunday, a familiar squawking noise reemerged. The clarinet had returned, and people were hiding in the foyer as the auditorium echoed "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." An electronic swing beat held it all together. That marked Miss Phoebe's final Sunday with us; she sought a "better church." I shook my head as I understood: the clarinet wasn't just a performance; it was pure defiance. It was Miss Phoebe's last hurrah, her statement about our leadership. Only two people -- Miss Phoebe and myself -- understood the depth of her parting shot. There's a little Miss Phoebe hiding in every musician. Truth told, if Miss Phoebe had been 20 years younger, sipped espresso, wore dark glasses and knew all Chris Tomlin's songs, I'd have probably been grooming her as a worship leader. Her attitude would have been part of our worship. We all know the smug feeling of being wiser than our leaders, of believing that whatever WE carry in OUR heads is ultimately from God. MY musicianship, MY philosophy of ministry, MY volume in the mix, MY songs, My, my, my... In Philippians 2, Paul challenges us, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...." The prophet Samuel put an even finer point on it: "Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft," he told King Saul, "and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols." Musician, sin is sneaky stuff. Rebellion takes many forms. Sometimes it's a teenager's tattoo, sometimes it's a fist waving at God. And sometimes it's a raised clarinet playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Phil Christenson is worship pastor at Cedar Hills Evangelical Free Church (CHEF) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is married to Mitzi, the Beauty Queen, and is father of 3 great kids and Dylan. Phil has served as a worship development missionary in the Pacific Northwest and is co-author of two books for Kregal Publishing. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.