Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Does It Bum You Out?" - What The Violet Burning taught me about grace.

First, let me say, I realize I'm a bad blogger. I totally neglected to write Monday's post. But since we've talked about grace so much on the Press, I've decided to not feel bad about it.

As I've thought about last Friday's post, I remembered a story from my past and realized how bad I am at receiving grace sometimes.

I've played music for a long time. I mean, if you want to count the birthday parties I played at the age of twelve, I've done this for seventeen years. For over three years, I only asked for recording time as Christmas and birthday presents. I spent two savings accounts on DIY tours. So I like to think I appreciate what musicians put into their work.

In 1998, I saw The Violet Burning play at a festival. Their show blew my mind despite the tyrannical heat and mid-afternoon time slot. I really wanted to get one of their albums, but I only had a few extra bucks to spend before the end of the week. Getting an album seemed even more hopeless when I saw their prices. They weren't especially unreasonable, but everything cost five or ten dollars more than what I expected.

Meanwhile, Mike Pritzl, the singer, stood there as I examined everything on the table and put it down. Finally, I picked up a cassette and asked how much it cost. "Six dollars," he said. I put the cassette down, feeling totally bummed and embarrassed. As I began to walk away, he stopped me. "How much do you have?"

"Five bucks."

"Here," he said, "you can have it."

"Have it?"

"Yeah, have it." Then he handed me two of their CDs and asked what size T shirt I wore.

"I can't afford these," I said.

"I know that," he said. "Come on. What size shirt do you wear? You look like a medium." And he handed me a rolled up black T. I tried to give him the five dollars, but he refused it. He said he wouldn't take my last few dollars.

The next year, I saved fifteen dollars to buy one of their CDs. When Mike saw me at their table, he sold me the CD and gave me a live VHS. "I don't need that," I said.

"You don't want it?"

"Well sure I want it, but I only saved enough to buy an album."

"Don't worry about it. You can have it."

I took the tape and said, "One of these days, I'll make it up to you."

A few years later, my band had signed a record deal and our label got us a spot at the same festival. We played to a good crowd. We met a lot of people. Things were going well.

Then one day, I saw Mike walking near a friend's campsite. I chased him down and began rambling, "Hey I'm sure you don't remember me but you give me free stuff every year and I told you I would get you back one day so here's my band's album and ten dollars to use for whatever you want or need." I put the disc and ten dollar bill into his hands and felt awesome. I had finally given back to a dude who gave me so much.

But Mike didn't look quite as happy. He stared at the CD and money in his hand. Then he said, "Does it bum you out when I give you free stuff?"

I was stunned. I expected him to appreciate it. I wanted him to thank me, dang it! The question stung. I didn't know how to respond. I murmured something like, "I don't know, I guess." We walked away from each other without another word.

I wonder if God asks us this question when we expect our behavior and will-power to please Him. In Isaiah 64:6, we're told all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. I've heard more than one person say "filthy rag" was a polite way of saying "used menstrual pad". Imagine putting that in God's hand and expecting Him to be grateful for it.

How many of you struggle with feeling like you need to pay God back?

1 comment:

Lindsey Renee said...

Obligation has always been a bad word in my vocabulary. It especially irks me in relationships. Making me feel obligated is one of the easiest ways to get me to run in the opposite direction. So it makes senses to me that God wants nothing to do with it. That our righteous deeds, if done out of obligation, are like dirty rags. The funny thing about obligation is that it's the opposite of gratitude. Still, I struggle to be deeply grateful.

Your story really illustrates how sad this is. It both robs us and the giver of joy.