Sunday, 8 July 2012

Is Christianity A Crutch? Part One - The Foolish Plight Of Enigmatic Jim

A few months ago I was asked to do a talk at a couple of the London music colleges. The subject of the talk was this: "Christianity: Is it just a crutch for the weak?"
Some of you, dear readers, were there.
But most of you weren't.
So guess what?
Here it is.
With added pictures and more words.
You lucky, lucky people.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of 25,000 crutches must
be worth 25 million words about crutches. It's going to be a long post.

Let me start with a story.
As most of you know, I was at the Royal College of Music a little while ago. And in my year was a violinist called Jim.
Jim was an enigma. Everywhere he went he was greeted by furtive glances and nervous whispering. Conversations would cease whenever he strolled past. Legend has it even the rats in the attic would stop eating the organs in order to scrutinise his movements. Why? This is why: no one had ever seen him play. Ever. No one even knew what instrument he was supposed to be studying. He didn't go to lessons. He didn't go to masterclasses. He didn't go to orchestra. One of the first years thought they'd spotted him in a practice room playing the tuba, but it turned out to have been a drug-induced hallucination. Jim was inscrutable.

Until, that is, the end of the year came, bringing with it the menace of The Final Recitals, where terrified musicians are given the chance to publicly humiliate themselves whilst destroying all hope they had of graduating, in a ritualistic concert-cum-exam designed to eliminate any trace of enjoyment the student might once have derived from the public performance of their chosen instrument.

And Jim was on the list. Along with everyone else, Jim had to give a recital exam.

And so, when his turn came, pretty much the whole year crowded into the hall to hear him play. The air crackled with expectation. People began taking bets on what instrument he'd unveil. Some of the more excitable woodwind girls had made him a banner. After five minutes of breathless hush, he walked out onto that stage, holding a violin that I swear was trailing a foot of cobwebs behind it. He stalked confidently and purposefully up to the music stand, confidently and purposefully slapped a pile of music onto it, confidently and purposefully raised his violin to his shoulder, fixed the examiners and the audience with a confident and purposeful stare, and slowly, confidently, and purposefully, brought his bow scything in a graceful arc towards the strings. It was one of those moments that seems to last forever. A hundred pairs of ears were straining in delighted anticipation.

This was going to be amazing.

Of course, the spell was broken the instant the bow made contact and filled the hall with a sound not unlike that of a pair of obese foxes in chain mail mating on a sloping blackboard. It grated. It jarred. It hurt. In fact, it was exactly the sort of tortured screech that a violinist who hasn't practised for a year always makes. I don't know why we expected anything else.

Well, people tiptoed out in dribs and drabs, and the sorry affair was eventually ended by one of the examiners setting off the fire alarm in a bid to drown Jim out. But from that first note the panel knew all they needed to know. Jim got a mark so low they had to invent a new branch of mathematics in order to write it down.

Some time later, I found myself having a drink with Jim, in the college bar. And I asked him the question we'd all been longing to ask. "Jim," I ventured, tentatively, "Umm... why the hell didn't you practise?"
Jim fixed me with a bright, quick eye, lowered his bottle, cleared his throat, and uttered these sage words:

"Practise? Real players don't need to practise. Practice is just a crutch for the weak, man."

This is Perlman, not Jim. I couldn't find a picture of Jim
because I made him up. But note the topical crutches.

Okay, I made Jim up. Obviously no one is that stupid. Not many, anyway. I made Jim up to demonstrate a point, and the point I wish to demonstrate is this: that asking whether something is a crutch or not is the wrong question. Maybe Fictional Jim is right, and practice is a crutch. But in that case the questions he should have been asking were "Do I need this crutch?" and "Does this crutch work?"

Do I need it?
Does it work?

Clearly he did need it, and it might well have worked. Nice one Fictional Jim, you idiot.

So much for Jim. What about Christianity? Is Christianity just a crutch? Wrong question. Let's just say yes. It's a crutch. There, didn't really need a blog post (or four) for that. Could have fitted it into one of those tweet things. So now let's move on and ask the right questions:

Do I need it?
Does it work?

And that's where we shall leave it for now, because I need to have a shower and leg it to Angel to buy a birthday present for my ex-housemate. Hopefully we'll find him something that he needs, which works, but more likely he'll end up with a whoopee cushion or a squirrel trampoline.

Come back soon for part two, which will start to answer these questions, and might have a picture of Britney in it.

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