The Gift of Susan Boyle, and Going Beyond the Gifted to the Giver

I’ve lost track already of how many times I’ve watched the 7 minute 7 second YouTube video of Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s Got Talent. (In just five days, it’s been viewed over 15 million times, so someone besides me out there is helping boost the numbers!) And now, the only known recording she’s done has surfaced on the Daily Record newspaper in her native Scotland: “Cry Me a River,” sung for a charity CD produced in 1999. (Okay, so I’ve only listened to it twice thus far.) (Umm … make that thrice. And hmmm … something somewhat reminiscent here of Diane Schuur doing a torch song?)

I’ve had a few thoughts …

Ms. Boyle’s public story is amazing, as is the gift of her voice. But aren’t we all more than just our gifts? For what it’s worth, I think it is better to be known as kind than to be considered as smart, or beautiful, or rich, or talented, or … well, it’s just like Jeremiah tells it:

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NIV)

In finding out more of Ms. Boyle’s backstory, I wonder if one reason she could sing such a dramatic ballad as “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables with such a captivating passion is that there is personal character beneath the choral arrangement. And character comes, in part, from the redemptive transformation of suffering. And it seems she’s certainly had her (un)fair share of that.

I’m also intrigued by something else I’ve seen in multiple settings, and it seems present in Ms. Boyle’s audition video: In situations where we might be using our gifts, we may come across as (or actually be) quite shy, quirky, self-conscious, or otherwise seemingly ill-fitted to our surroundings. And yet, when we’re being who God created us to be, the self-consciousness seems to dissolve and the self-confidence grows. Maybe that happens over time, maybe sort of instantaneously once we’ve launched into sharing the fruit of what gifts we’ve been given.

Ms. Boyle certainly seemed to know before her audition that she could/would indeed “make that audience rock!” Was it cocky arrogance or appropriate confidence? That thumbs up sign to turn on the background track. That ever-so-slight smile immediately before open her mouth to let her first notes waft forward. That calm demeanor of looking the judges full in the face. And then, after her long instrumental lead-in, it took exactly four seconds of singing for the audience and judges to decide. She began vocalizing at 1:56 into the video, and the audience roar started registering at 2:00 and hit its first peak at 2:02, and the first shown standing ovation was at 2:14. By the end, nearly everyone was on their feet.

This is one of the wonderful things about diversity in God’s design – His manifold gifts are scattered far and wide, based on His joyful imagination and providential choices, not ours. Yet, we can choose to recognize the gifts regardless of what package He presents them in, and acknowledge those image-bearers who both cultivate them faithfully and share them graciously. But then, we need to remember to look beyond the gifts and back at the Giver.

Finally, check out “Dreaming an Unexpected Dream,” a thoughtful theological commentary posted on Ekklesia UK about the Susan Boyle phenomenon. Perhaps what is happening has much more to say about the rest of us than it does about Ms. Boyle herself. Here’s a quote from this article by Hannah Kowszun: “How many assumptions do we make on a daily basis for no other reason than experience, bigotry and lack of imagination? And how utterly fantastic when those expectations are shattered by talent and wonderment.”

P.S. To Ms. Boyle, thank you for being who you are and developing God’s gift of voice. I look forward to hearing more of your singing! Also, thank you for being faithful to the many tasks you were called upon to do in God’s plan through the years. Your virtuous character has a earned a voice with something to say, and I look forward to hearing more of your story!

P.P.S. on Sunday April 19. It’s been a full week of tracking this viral internet story and how it has unfolded. It occurs to me that, while such stunning talents are a gift of grace, given by God to only a few, godly character is a grace that gives, and is available to all. This is part one of the fundamental blessings of following Christ: a meaningful life of becoming like Him is available to all, regardless of gender or generation, race or place, culture or credentials. The events of this week simply “refresh the screen” on what I shared a few days ago in a guest post entitled “Easter and Accessibility for All.”

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10 thoughts on “The Gift of Susan Boyle, and Going Beyond the Gifted to the Giver

  1. Nice work Brad – good stuff though i did not see the video…must have been something to behold…to capture the sentiment of so many…

  2. Fantastic, we here in South Africa have only seen it on youtube. But what an amazing voice. My wife is from England, and so she was more astonished.

    But your summation is so apt. God has given to each one special gifts. we have to find them and use them.

  3. Hi Jeff and Robert. Thanks for dropping in and for your comments.

    Jeff – be sure to see the video by next time we have a chance to chat!

    Robert – her performance must have been even more epic in person. Perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to hear her in our home countries when she goes on tour.

    As to gifts, God invests something extraordinary in each person … even if they appear to have nothing. A book you might enjoy is The Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of Love by Christopher de Vinck. His book recounts the gifts of grace bestowed in and through “the powerless” that can change our lives. One of the very few books I’ve read more than once.

  4. And I can’t help but think singing “I Dreamed a Dream” was autobiographical. She had dreams like all girls and life killed them as she set them aside to take care of her mother.

    I can’t watch that video without tears flowing.

    • Hi Rick, and yes, life certainly can quench our dreams. And yet, thankfully, our story doesn’t end there. In fact, perhaps that’s exactly where it really begins to take on depth. I have to wonder how often the very things which seem to squelch our gifts actually reshape us to be more of a wise gift to others than we could have been otherwise. That’s part of the stunning providential mystery hidden inside of painful transformation, and worth searching for …

      [UPDATE: As it turns out, on a “Larry King Live” interview of April 17, 2009, he asked Ms. Boyle, “How did you select the song you sang?” She said, “I sang that song because it fitted in with the circumstances at the particular time. It was the way I was feeling at the time. It sort of summed up what I was aiming for.” And so, autobiographical it was. I also found out that “I Dreamed a Dream” is considered one of the tougher musical theatre numbers to perform well, due to its difficult combination of vocal range, dynamics, and sustained sections.]

  5. P.S. I’m SO glad that God’s imagination for us goes so much farther than we can imagine from our circumstances, and as eternal beings, our stories don’t end here. I see hope as anchored in prophetic and providential imagination, and so, stories like that of Susan Boyle help me see that the resolution of anyone’s story awaits. This builds my reservoir of hope for the redemption of the past and present, and for launching into the future!

  6. The Abbess is sorry that they chose not to film her backstory in her own town (too much of a dump, they say) … and I hope that she doesn’t get a makeover, as she hinted to Diane Sawyer … unless it is something she wants to do because it is fun and she can have fun with it!

    To my very purple sister, I say “rock on, girl”….

  7. Yo, Peggy, thanks for dropping in. And who knows, perhaps the publicity about these matters will help challenge the presumptiveness of all kinds of prides and prejudices that all of us exhibit to one degree or another. Me included.

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