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.”