Friday, January 09, 2015

Becoming a Dancing Panda

Today’s coffee: Tanzania

A couple of years ago, we visited a rural church where our friend is the pastor. After the service, we chatted with church members and visitors over tea. One person expressed his appreciation for western missionaries: “you’re the 客寄せパンダ (crowd-drawing pandas, or dancing pandas).” I could see the pastor and his wife face-palming behind him in embarrassment.

I’m in a bit of a slump.

Shino and I have two concerts coming up next weekend, and although the music preparations are going okay, I’m having a really hard time getting motivated to work on the spoken parts of the concert. To be fair, getting myself to work on concert talks and piece introductions is always a struggle; I am not a public speaker. Back in college, I used to come onstage with my cello, play whatever I was scheduled to play, and then leave the stage again, all without saying a word. Sometimes I really miss those sorts of straightforward concerts.

I think Celia the musician and Celia the missionary are locked in some sort of battle. Celia the musician wants to play concerts that the audience will enjoy, that Shino and I will be proud of, that we will enjoy playing—a good concert, with good music and a good atmosphere. Afterwards, I envision lively conversation over tea with guests. Hopefully the guests can make the first steps towards friendship with members of the church which is hosting the concert.

Celia the musician struggles with her own annoyance at requests to play popular music, or “songs everyone knows,” or just “nothing too long.” Most pop-songs aren’t suited to cello and piano. There is so much good cello repertoire, but most of it is longer than a 3-minute pop-song, and much of it no one has ever heard.

Celia the musician would not be upset if she never had to play Amazing Grace or What a Friend We Have in Jesus ever again. These are the two hymns that get requested for every concert, since they are the only two hymns that the average Japanese concert-goer will know. (Much to the frustration of Celia the missionary, the line in Amazing Grace that I was hoping to work into my concert talk—“I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see”—disappeared in the Japanese version. I even checked three different translations.)

Celia the musician is feeling conflicted about using concerts as “bait and switch.” Celia the missionary is also feeling conflicted about this. Recently, there was a major evangelistic outreach in Sapporo, which was advertised as a concert. There was a lot of great music, I’m told. (I didn’t go; I was sick.) But some of the concert-goers were surprised that the main event of the evening was not the various musical performances, but the lengthy sermon by a famous visiting preacher. I wonder if some of the guests felt that they had been tricked?

Celia the missionary, while feeling conflicted, wants to do whatever is necessary for the spread of the Gospel through her concerts. Should I give up my desire to play what I think is a good concert? Should I play popular songs and then give a directly evangelistic talk (unadvertised and possibly unexpected)? Is that really what is necessary for the spread of the Gospel? Does it matter that guests who come expecting “just a concert” might feel that they have been deceived?

A friend of ours was explaining to a Japanese Christian friend his distaste for teaching English—an expectation every English-speaking missionary has placed on him or her. “Why do I have to be a dancing panda?” he asked. His friend responded: “I would gladly be a dancing panda if it meant that more people could be reached for the Gospel.”

I agree. But “if” is a very important word here. Is God asking me to be the bait in a bait-and-switch scheme? Should I embrace the role of dancing panda? Or is that just an expectation, because that’s the way things have always been done? I’m not sure. If becoming “bait” really is what’s necessary for the spread of the Gospel, I will certainly continue to do it, but I’m not convinced. I struggle to distinguish God’s voice and God’s leading for my music ministry from the pressures and expectations placed on me by others—or even my own faulty interpretations of what others expect.

I do know that God led me to play the cello, and he led me to study cello at university and in grad-school. Then he led me to Regent College, and to Japan. Keith and I decided on Regent in part because of the Christianity and the Arts program; I spent three years struggling through these very same sorts of issues: what is a musician’s purpose in the Kingdom of God? Where do I fit? This is what I concluded: my purpose, like everyone else, is to worship God and bring glory to his name. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like specifically, but I think that’s the way forward for me now.

1 comment:

Georgia said...

Thank you for this, Celia. I appreciate your conflict.