380 | Odd Ducks in a Row

April 26, 2015
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #380: Odd Ducks in a Row


Dear Family,
We’re going to play a little Word Association game, right now. More like an experiment, actually. I’m going to give you a word, and you will think about something you associate with that word, such as: dog. You might think the word bark, or house-broken, or hair-all-over-the-place, depending on your annoyance level with your best friend at this time.

You ready for the word? Okay, here it is: stingy. Now think of the first association you made with that word just now, in your head. If you thought about bees or wasps, then you are not alone, but you are way off. The word stingy refers to the behavior of being selfish and ungenerous with your possessions, not to the behavior of liking to sting people.

Most likely, you didn’t recognize the word immediately because you are not in need of its services. We don’t associate much with stingy people. One of Jesus’ closest friends was stingy, often complaining about money given to the poor or extravagant gifts bestowed on Jesus. I doubt the other disciples noticed this trait in Judas, who was tasked with keeping the funds for Jesus and His small band of disciples. My guess is that Judas had a few other glaring personality issues besides his over-sensitivity to monetary expenditures. The other disciples weren’t saints, either, and are now so only by reason of their place in Christian history, but Judas must have been a real barrel of fun to be around. Like a bee that likes to sting.

I, too, have a small band of guys I am training, with all their varied personalities and character traits, but mine aren’t disciples in the classic first-century tradition. My guys are literally a small band of guys. That is, they are my band, cleverly named Contempo for the fact that we are all convicted felons servicing time, yet as the complete name implies, all things are made new. And though the band’s fearless leader desires to be like Jesus, he is nothing like Him. In fact, it is sad that perhaps the greatest similarity between Jesus and me is that we each have a band. And each of us has a guy with a weird personality.

Joel is my drummer. The first time I met Joel was at California Training Facility, a prison in Soledad, California, where I was the worship leader for the Christian church services. On my last Sunday at that prison, I was playing the piano prelude with my guitarist when someone started playing the drum set behind me. I was impressed and both of us were disappointed I had to leave.

The next time I saw Joel was five years later, just after our first yard concert this past December. I immediately recruited him along with that same guitarist to a band I had decided to form. Since then, I have worked to get additional members and to secure practice times.

From my first interaction with him, it has been painfully obvious that Joel is an odd duck. He has a strange personality. I guess you could say that he drives most God-fearing, red-blooded, normal human beings nuts. He is in his fifties, has long white hair, and is constantly moving, talking, and asking a million questions I’ve already answered. He reminds me of the mad scientist, Doc, from the Back to the Future movies, without the cool car.

Recently, I brought the band to our choir practices so that I could work out the accompaniment to the songs the choir has learned and add choral parts to the songs the band has written. I had high hopes for these collaborative sessions, so I prepped Joel ahead of time. I took him aside while we were at the library and tried to counsel him about his antics.

Joel has had quite the history of being annoying, demanding, eccentric, loud, and controlling that has caused him to be kicked out of several prison groups in the past, including church worship teams and music classes. Staff can’t stand him, from the librarians to his pod officers. I mentioned to Joel that perhaps some of these people had something valid in their criticisms, and Joel agreed to try to be patient and calm as we combined band and choir.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. Joel didn’t take long before he got all over everyone’s nerves, constantly bossing the other musicians around (my job!) and feeling the need to mention a million ideas on how to make the songs different.

Eventually, several members of both band and choir were ready to throw in the towel rather than finish what seemed to be a constant fight to maintain their own sanity. I could tell that nerves were frayed and everyone was tense, not because I’m incredibly perceptive, but because everyone but Joel told me how frustrated they were because of him. I had to do something, especially once I received ultimatums telling me Joel had to go or they would quit.

I spent another couple of hours with Joel. He shed tears, pouring out his heart, I reminded him of the primary reason we should be involved in a music program or a band in the first place: to make lots of money. No, I’m kidding … I actually said to bring God glory with the abilities He’s given to us. I told Joel that it was obvious to me that he had not fully yielded his will to what God wanted from him, nor had he relaxed and trusted my leadership for the band and choir. In doing so, he offended others and caused strife and division.

Joel decided to write an apology letter to the other participants in which he humbly requested another chance to serve alongside them, just as a drummer, not as someone who talks too much, bosses others, or complains.
So whether your own tough guy to deal with is stingy like Judas or annoying like Joel, don’t give up on him! We all march to the beat of a different drum, especially “different” drummers.