196 | Cainan the Barbarian

October 20, 2011
Thursday, 1:30 p.m.
Letter #196: Cainan the Barbarian


Dear Family,

Long-time subscribers to my “Dear Family” letters may recall a guy named Bill who was in my choir at Salinas Valley more than two years ago. Bill was special. He was self-convinced that he had the World’s Best Voice™ and was determined to prove it at every opportunity. He did not follow instructions, resisted my leadership, and was a constant thorn of hairy proportion in my otherwise healthy side.

God dealt with my attitude, however, and I got to wash Bill’s feet during a special “foot-washing service” in which I cried on him. From then on, my heart was changed toward Bill, as I saw him through eyes of compassion: for the daughter he had to leave at her birth, for his unstable mind that caused so many cellie conflicts—he was on permanent single-cell status, and for his learning difficulties that kept him in trouble with staff—so much trouble, in fact, that he was taken from our Level 3 yard to Salinas’s Level 4 yard, with violent Lifers. I still write to him occasionally, though he’s not written to me in a long while.

I learned much from my encounters with Bill: A problem, no matter how much it seems to be originating from the other person, can often be solved by means of an attitude or heart adjustment on my part, which, by the way, is much easier said than done. Gratefully, my choirs have been blissfully Bill-free the past two years, until now … Cainan (as in Cain, who killed his brother) has quite ably filled Bill’s vacant choir seat.

Just as Bill did, Cainan enjoys coming up—uninvited—and playing his three chords on the keyboard before church services. In Bill fashion, Cainan “adds” his own special flavor to the songs (what I refer to as “going willy-nilly”) so that he clearly stands out from the other voices. And, in a page directly from the Bill Handbook of Choir Discord, he misses choir practice yet shows up front-and-center in the choir on Sunday morning.

Recently, our head elder, in a move that could only have been from the very Mercy Seat of Christ, pulled Cainan from the choir to invest time in him for leadership and personal growth. (Truthfully, I didn’t care if the reason was to enroll him in cooking school, to get his pilot’s license, or to train guide dogs for the blind, as long as he was no longer in my choir.) The Sunday before last, while Phillip was leading and the choir was behind him backing him up and our sweet volunteer, Mrs. Peggy, was singing with him, Cainan broke loose. He came waltzing down the aisle (figuratively speaking—he didn’t literally dance in ¾ timing) waving his arms like an inebriated orchestra conductor, as if controlling the entire performance.

At practice on Wednesday, he came up to me and asked if he could at least sing with the choir for the next school GED graduation, so he can get the fried chicken and party cake they serve. How could I say no? He’ll perform with us.

You can imagine my shock, however, when on Sunday morning I heard Cainan’s voice in the microphone during the first song. I hadn’t even noticed that he’d come to the front with the choir until, loud and booming, he’d stepped up to a mic: “Sing from your hearts, church!” Cainan called out. “Put your hands together like this,” he thundered while clapping his hands above his head.

A guy named Rich was supposed to be leading the service, but the service was now firmly in the wildly clapping hands of Cainan the Barbarian. At that point, I couldn’t do anything but continue to play the keyboard and sing.

On Wednesday, I talked with the chapel’s other leaders, and one of them helped me speak with Cainan again. After gently rebutting Cainan’s claims that I just didn’t like his “style” (HA! I’ve been here before! I know how to handle this!), I was able to show him how concerned I am that we stay under the proper authority and not overstep someone else’s responsibilities. When Cainan learned from the other leader that my goal is to help grow others into leading worship, Cainan visibly softened, apologized, and gave me a hug. (Of course I forgave him.)

Then I talked with the head elder to get the okay for Cainan to be back in the choir for one week—so he can properly lead a worship service. Hmm … it seems I may have actually learned that lesson from two years ago: a change of heart (opening my heart to others) does wonders in the other person’s heart—and in me!