“Another Steed In The Stable” or “Why I Flee From Love”

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I’m a one guitar man.  Have been from the beginning.  And I’ve secretly been suspicious of those who have numerous guitars as one would have steeds in a stable.  I’m faithful to one woman, and I’m faithful to one guitar.   At least that’s what I’ve always told myself since I couldn’t really afford a second guitar.

But lately I’ve been hoping and praying to add at least one more steed to my stable.  I’ve written a lot of new material in alternate tunings and have resorted to borrowing spare guitars from the worship leader at whatever church I’d be playing so that I wouldn’t have to take as much time tuning during my performance.

Such was the case for my first performance of 2009 with my good friends at His Place Community Church in Washington.  His Place is one of my favorite places to play because the people there are crazy enough to have adopted me for some reason and it’s one of the few places where the people make me feel kind of like a rock star (which is good since it’s in the same city as my in-laws and it casts me in a pretty good light). His Place is full of good people led by an exceptionally sharp staff.

My friend Ken Beane is the worship leader there and he kindly obliged me by loaning me his black Martin acoustic guitar for the morning that I took the services.  It looks like something that Johnny Cash would have played and has a deep, rich tone, and when I made a percussion loop with it, something about the placement of the internal mic gave it a really cool and unique sound – very vibey.  It was my favorite loaner guitar that I’ve played and was a perfect compliment to my Taylor 714CE.

That morning was tricky because I decided that my friends at His Place deserved something special, so I decided to only play my brand new material that I’ve been working on for my next record (coming soon, by the way :-).  I played songs that I had never played for people before and spent the whole weekend agonizing over whether these songs were ready to be unveiled yet and whether I was ready to play them!  It was like cramming for finals, but when the first service started I began to share the stories and songs that will shape the next season of my ministry and had one of the funnest times I’ve had playing music in a long time.  It was a gift to me to have a place where I could risk something like this and the people graciously allowed me to fumble through these baby songs that still hadn’t learned how to walk yet, let alone crawl.

At the end of the service as I was packing up to hit the road for a concert in Renton, WA that night, Ken asked me if I would like to use his guitar for the next show.  I said that would be great, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be coming back this way and therefore wouldn’t be able to return it to him.  He simply said, “I know, that’s okay” and then just asked me if I wanted the guitar.  I can’t really recall the specifics of what was said after that since everything kind of went white for awhile as he told me that he wanted me to have this guitar.  For keeps.

I was speechless!  Ken is one of the most affable and kind men I’ve met, but I also know he’s not necessarily wealthy, and though this is exactly the kind of thing you might expect Ken to do, a part of me was concerned about how he would replace this guitar that he was parting with.  I lamely protested for lack of knowing what else to do, but in the end accepted his offer with a mixture of shock and profound gratitude.

I packed up the rest of my gear, my guitar, and then packed up his guitar that was now mine.  Still uncomfortable with the whole thing, I told him that I would be the keeper of the guitar for as long as he liked, but that if he ever needed it back, I would be happy to get it back to him.  In retrospect I think I said this because I couldn’t bear this kindness and it was some strange kind of self-defense.  Then I loaded it in my car and tried to clear out of the church as fast as I could.  I noted my discomfort with the whole thing and my increased urgency to vacate the premises.  I just had to hurry up and get out of there.

From WA I met up with Taya in Nashville where we participated in a writer’s retreat and marriage conference.  Every day was packed with the kind of insight and wisdom that opens up the world to you and puts you back in touch with your own life, and frankly by the end of day two our heads and hearts were full to the rafters.  The best part of the week was the marriage conference with Dan Allander – an incredibly wise, and gentle man with a forceful intellect and deep reservoirs of insight.  I could write pages and pages of what we experienced and learned from this man, but for now I just want to share one thought he shared which was this: in relationships it isn’t really rejection that we are afraid of, but rather love.

Taya and I talked afterward about how rejection is much easier for us to manage.  We know how to deal with rejection and have a thousand different modes we go into when we encounter it: anger, depression, self-righteousness, retreat, tears, the martyr complex, etc.  Rejection sets into motion an emotional machine we keep well oiled to counter it.  So though rejection isn’t any fun, it’s relatively safe and predictable.  We know what to do to defend ourselves.

Extravagant love, however, is another matter altogether and is a force so upsetting and unpredictable that it renders us defenseless against it.  We have no idea what to do, it’s chaos to us and it leaves us disarmed and feeling naked.  When it comes to us we feel awkward, uncomfortable, self-conscious, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves.   The well-oiled machine we use to protect ourselves breaks down before extravagant love.

It’s why most of us prefer God’s rejection over his love.  It’s why we choose legalism over grace.  Obeying God’s law puts us back in the driver’s seat where we can imagine that we’re in control.  We have our list of obligations to check off, and though we know we can’t meet all of the Law’s demands, we still like to feel like the ball is in our court.  When we fail, we know what to do: pay our penance by feeling the requisite amount of shame and then vow to try harder the next time.  Grace is terrifying because it is completely beyond our control and our efforts to manage it.

I’ve always had a hard time receiving gifts from people, and I always thought it had to do with my fear of feeling indebted – if someone helps I feel like I owe them something.  But as Taya and I talked about all this, I thought of Ken’s kindness to me and realized that I didn’t feel one bit of indebtedness to him.  In fact he eased the blow when he said “it feels weird, doesn’t it?  I know,” implying that someone had given him a guitar (maybe this very one) and he was now paying it forward.  Whatever I was feeling when I felt like I had to hurry up and get away from the church and Ken’s presence, it had nothing to do with indebtedness.

I think it was extravagant love that I was fleeing from.  As usual.  And it occurs to me that this is the human story and has been for as long as memory.  Starving for love, we seek it out – more often than not in all the wrong places – and then when we find it (or rather it finds us), we are terrified at how naked it makes us feel, how vulnerable – disarmed of our best self-preservation mechanisms.  And so we flee.

But it keeps finding us.  Thank God.


21 Comments

  1. Gaël Cosendai

    Oh, thank you so much for this story. The same thing happened to me, a friend of mine just offered me his guitar, and it was such a nice one! I do understand what you say about how it makes you feel weird, happy, indebted, to the point you don’t know how to react. I never thought it was because we are terrified at being loved that way. But as you describe it, I see it’s definitely right for me. Thanks again Jason for this wonderful insight. God bless you!

  2. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    Right on the money. In a word, legalism is about control. If I do A, B, and C for God, and keep myself busy DoingThings4God and ReadingMyBibleAndPrayingMore I won’t have to listen to that inexorable Love and give up my defense mechanisms – that false self’ that, as George MacDonald said, “we so wrongly call ‘ourselves’.” That self is just a bundle of mechanisms that Satan created in us from childhood and our years apart from Christ.

    I had several guitars through my earliest guitar years, but one at a time. My Dad (music store owner) would give me another and sell the last one. In around 1982 I bought a beat up 1969 Martin D-18, and it served me well through my teens and twenties. I joined AKUS at around 26, and continued to use that guitar. But then I began to search for other sounds.

    That’s what multiple guitars mean – different options, different vibes. Some of my guitars sound better fingerpicked. Others are perfect for flatpicking. Some are good for a thinner, countryish sound (on a thick track one doesn’t need a fat guitar). Other guitars, particularly my old Martins, sound great with just the five of us in AKUS – it calls for a fatter guitar sound.

    A few years ago I was about to buy a pair of Neumann KM54s. I mentioned it to my wife (who is always so good about such things); she looked at me squarely and said with no sarcasm or frustration, just fact: “It never ends, does it?”

    I shook my head. “No. It doesn’t.”

  3. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Thanks, Jason. This is beautiful–spot-on. A lot of times when we say we want to be loved what we really mean is that we want to deserve love. Which is to say, we’re inclined to choose flattery over love.

  4. Gretchen Emily

    I added guitar to my other instruments this past September, and I really really love it. My little brother has been playing guitar for around six years, and he’s really very good at it. It’s been interesting to watch how our relationship has changed since I began guitar; he now has something to teach me, and I have a whole new learning curb in humbling myself before my little brother and accepting his advice and knowledge. It’s rather a weird feeling – I’m so used to telling him information on a subject, helping him with his bookwork, etc. that when he starts helping me I have to completely relearn how to respond to it. God puts knew turns in the road of our lives all the time to teach us how to love more fully, and I’m glad he does.

  5. Aaron Roughton

    Wonderful post Jason. Thanks for the insights.

    I relate directly to the control of legalism. And I also feel the discomfort of extravagant love. However, once I had kids, my perspective changed quite a bit, especially on love.

    As a side note, do you have the fancy pants Expression System in that there 714CE? Mine crapped out on the first 814CE I had, so Taylor sent me a new one, and while it works, I’m not completely thrilled with the sound.

  6. redhead.kate

    So how do we get over our fear of love? I never would have said that I was afraid of love. But having read your piece, I think that is the problem. Too often, I identify with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms – “I am very self-reliant, you know”. Allowing others to love me means that I have to relinquish some of that self-reliance. So if we know the problem…what is the solution?

  7. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    As a matter of fact Aaron, as great as everyone claims the expression system to be, I prefer their old electronics, and that’s what I have. It gives me more eq options and puts me in control of blending the mic with the pick up, and I depend on this when making loops. The Expression System is nice, but it’s just not for me.

  8. m a t t

    Thank God indeed!

    I really appreciate your honest self-evaluation here, Jason. It’s caused me to take a harder look at the relationships in my life, with God and others, and ask myself if I am in them for love, or for control, or for flattery (thanks for the comment, Jonathan), or … Are my relationships built on giving and receiving love?

    Thank God indeed, that he continues to pursue us with his love, when we follow the footsteps of those foolish Galatians (3:1-5).

  9. Aaron Roughton

    You’re not the first pro who’s told me they opted for the older electronics. I’ve thought about “retrograding” mine or replacing the ES completely.

    Thanks again for the great post Jason. I’ll shut up about guitar innards now.

  10. Profile photo of Eric Peters

    Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    You should get a 12-string. I bought one nearly 2 years ago, and LOVE it for live stuff, Expression System and all (many thanks, Rupert Neve).

  11. Aaron Roughton

    That’s ironic, Eric. (At least according to Alanis Morissette.) I have a 12-string Ovation. I have never been a fan of Ovations, but this is a great sounding guitar when you plug it in, and it plays like a dream. I can play the first two measures of Hole Hearted like nobody’s business!

    Here’s the ironic part (I think). It was given to me. My attempt to derail this post has come full circle. The story is that my dad is a Methodist Preacher in Florida, and an old Jewish jazz guitarist started attending his church with his wife. He found Jesus there in his old age, and felt like my dad played a big part in it. Tto thank him, he gave my dad a handmade jazz guitar, custom made for this guitarist, one of about 35 or 40 guitars in his collection that he just didn’t play much anymore (talk about steeds in a stable). Since my dad is part of a Name-It-And-Claim-It Methodist sect, this fell perfectly into his theology. He deserved that guitar. And of course I’m joking. My dad responded much like Jason did, indicating that he would love to play the guitar, but would not call it his own.

    Since then the jazz guitarist’s health has declined, and he doesn’t get around well. He had 2 Ovation 12-strings, and since they slip off his lap when he’s seated, he gave one to my dad, and one to me. He had seen me play at my dad’s church before, and knew I didn’t have a 12-string. I don’t remember my exact response, but I know that I identified with Jason’s post as I read through it. I believe I wrote him a thank-you note, but I’m not positive. It couldn’t hurt to put another one in the mail.

  12. Bret Welstead

    Jason, thanks for this story! As one who plays and sometimes covets guitars, I related to this story. And as one who has a hard time dealing with the extravagant love shown me by others and by God, this really helped me reflect.

  13. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    I’ve heard this “new steed” live and now I know “the rest of the story.” Travis and I enjoyed our time with you and Taya in Athens, TN. He insisted on listening to your music that night and on the way home on Sunday. Thanks for touching my son’s heart. From one dad to another muchas gracias!

    redhead.kate,
    The solution? How about grace? The deeper our understanding of grace, the greater our capacity to both give and receive love. See Luke 7:36-50, the woman in this story had chased many false loves, but when she loved Jesus she did so with abandon. I think as we embrace the love of Christ more fully, it spills over to those around us. We can’t help it, His love is compelling us to live that way. Maybe a little bit at first, but over time as we walk with Him more flows out of us. “Dispensers of Grace” — this is what Phillip Yancey feels Christians should be and I think that sums it up nicely. 🙂

  14. Kaitlyn

    Jason,
    This is one of my favorite posts of yours in The Rabbit Room. Your story was one that hit me in the heart. It was very very beautiful and it was what I needed to hear right at this moment. Thank you so much!

  15. LVo

    J-

    You put my thoughts into words, but did it in a more eloquent way than i will ever be able to.

    It is so strange to think that rejection is almost welcomed moreso than incredible love. I wonder if its because we, people as a whole, experience more rejection than love and have become accustomed to it. It makes me think about myself & my experiences with other people. Not if they have rejected or loved me, but have I rejected them or loved them. Have i made it harder for someone else to accept truly unconditional love? Have i made it easier for them to simply accept rejection, when they should not be? I cannot beat myself up over the past, but i can look at my life now and think about areas where i may have the chance to love someone instead of reject them.

    Not only that, but i can work on accepting God’s grace & love, and SLOWLY try to leave behind legalism. It will always be a struggle, but may God give me the strength & courage to put that behind & truly lean on Him.

    Thank you for allowing God to speak through you.

    Carrots.

  16. Profile photo of Stephen Lamb

    Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Jason, this post reminds me of a movie quote I heard once that says, “It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” I’ve felt that way many times.

  17. Erin

    Wow…I never really thought about it, but this is so true, especially in my life. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insight, Jason!

  18. Kelly Beane

    Jason,
    Ken just told me tonight he gave away his guitar. I asked, “which one?” (he is a guitar whore if you didn’t know 😉 and he didn’t say anything. I said “not the Martin”, and he just nodded. I’m not going to go into why I knew he would never give away the Martin…but all I said was “God must have told you to”, and of course that was the case. Then he had me read this blog; which was awesome. I’m wondering if I can send you something by snail mail…if so, please send me an address to the email I’ve provided. (the one that is not to be published.) I promise it won’t be a court order to return the guitar. 🙂 Love, Kelly

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