A Video Version Follows the Text
You know, sometimes,
(and this is one of them),
I am compelled to leave the lectionary behind
and branch out on my own.
The New Revised Common Lectionary
has a scratch in it,
and we have been reading and re-reading
the same thread from John’s Gospel
for weeks and weeks. Ugh.
So I am going to jump off
that Mary Oliver poem that is ostensibly
about prayer — but, I think, much deeper.
And catch a lift
from that wonderful psalm 139,
and then land in the midst of…Kurt Vonnegut!
First of all,
if you do not know what a “Hoosier” is
then you probably haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut.
Hoosier is the name of native Indianians –
that is, someone from Indiana.
Vonnegut uses them
as a subtle thread running through his stories.
No one seems to have the definitive
derivative source of the name,
but legend has it
comes from the accent.
As in, when someone knocked on the door,
back in the day, they answered, “Whosetheyer”.
Now that is apropos of nothing.
But I am a Hoosier,
and there is a piece from Vonnegut’s well-known work,
that I found more inspiring this week, than John.
Here it is:
“…simply moderate giftedness
has been made worthless
by the printing press and radio and television
and satellites and all that.
A moderately gifted person
who would have been a community treasure
a thousand years ago has to give up,
has to go into some other line of work,
since modern communications put him or her
into daily competition
with nothing but the world’s champions….
A moderately gifted person
has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until,
in a manner of speaking,
he or she gets drunk at a wedding
and tap-dances on the coffee table
like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers.
We have a name for him or her.
We call him or her an ‘exhibitionist.’
How do we reward such an exhibitionist?
We say to him or her the next morning,
’Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!’”
And isn’t that so true?
I am a writer of truly moderate giftedness
and it took me forty-five years
to get up the nerve
to try and get something published.
Now, there are so many writers
of truly moderate giftedness
and much less,
who get published with independent presses
or publish works themselves
with what used to be called vanity presses,
that it is extremely difficult
for rare and especially gifted talent
to break through the morass.
and digital music
and digital everything,
has made so much accessible to the public
that it is now quite difficult
to sort through it all
to find some of the more spectacular talent.
The line between talent and exhibitionism
has been made difficult to discern
by Facebook, Instagram, and Tick Tock,
but Vonnegut’s point still resonates
because it hits close to home
for all of us.
I had a couple children
who eventually became athletes
but the competition was fierce
and the winnowing process astounding.
One of my daughters was a swimmer
and she would blow out other girls
in the 200 yard butterfly at one swim meet,
only to place way back in the pack
at another, bigger swim meet.
She went on to be an eight time All-American
at the DIII level
but put her in the DI pool
and she might not have even placed.
Or my “little” 16 year old who was 6’5”
and a dominant center in Buffalo,
but then we would go
to a basketball tournament in NYC
and he suddenly got shorter and slower.
Or, when planet Earth seemed bigger,
and you were the smartest kid in your high school,
you had to travel a far piece
to realize you weren’t the smartest kid in the world
So Vonnegut is very perceptive
when he recognizes how we keep our
merely moderate giftedness
all bottled up
because there are so many other
The Olympics remind us of this every couple of years.
What that means for you and me
is that our creativity
which is the life-blood of giftedness –
lives deep down in us,
where mushrooms grow.
Down there, in the depth of our hiding places,
our creativity –
which is also the wellspring of joy –
can get depressed.
How many artists are in sales these days?
How many musicians are teaching math
or social studies?
How many dancers are in advertising?
How many poets write copy?
How many authors are working for Verizon?
How many painters are behind the counter at CVS?
How many sculptors went into the ministry?
How many story-tellers spend their days punching a keyboard?
How many athletes grow slow at their desks?
How many gardeners work in file cabinets
or how many spectacular cooks
spend their days drywalling?
What happens to our creativity
when the artist or athlete or performer in us
is buried underneath a 27 hour life in a 24 hour day?
Or for those who are retired,
it may be a reduced energy level
and lack of community or companionship
that holds us back.
But touch the dilemma,
let your own mind search out
where this struggle lives in you,
and we will put our finger
on the core challenge
who wishes to deepen their spirituality.
I do not care if you are ninety-six years old
this is a true struggle
worthy of our attention and effort.
is your giftedness?
are you allowing it to bloom?
is it recognized,
whether simply by you or anyone else?
We all have giftedness.
It may be
innate Fung Shui,
intuitive fishing acumen,
or any number of less obvious
and more mysterious kinds of talent.
But the question,
is if and how often
we are able to exercise it.
I am thinking of creativity in a very broad sense,
as in our being co-creators with God
in the on-going act of Creation.
Those things we have been gifted with are the very talents that evoke our partnership with God
as we live life within our small place on the planet.
Suppress the gift,
push the creative process to the side
for want of time,
or fear we are not good enough,
or because no one will pay us for it…
and our spirituality will suffer.
Indeed, if we do neglect our giftedness,
if we do not keep fidelity with that gift,
no matter how moderate our talent it is,
then our efforts to grow
and deepen spiritually
will be diminished.
So, let loose “imagination’s tongue,”
as Denise Levertov wonderfully describes it.
Hear the orchestra of life’s fullness –
then taste and see
where the goodness of co-creating with God
can be unleashed with your gifts!
Unleash your gifts!
Even the small ones.
Even the moderate ones.
Even our very least gift,
if truly a gift,
will unleash a process within us
that has enormous power.
At first our legs will feel heavy
because it is scary to be
only moderately gifted
in a world awash with the images of champions.
But there is power even in just beginning.
There is even more power in unleashing it
once we allow it to grow.
So there is the challenge from me to you:
Unleash your gift.
You may never become a champion
or Best Selling author or cook,
but when you free your creativity
to exercise your gift,
you will experience the power of it.
Steve Shanley says
Naming and expressing your gift sort of follows that AA maxim of ‘Identify, don’t compare.’ Identify what you have to offer to the world; don’t bottle yourself up with negative comparisons to others who seem more talented, smarter, richer, etc. etc. than you. Enjoy your moderate giftedness!
Cam Miller says
Haha, I am trying to! Thank you.