Posted August 2, 2013 by Marg Herder
Beth Whitney will be performing at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival on Saturday, August 10, at 12:30 pm on the Performance Café Stage.
Yesterday I introduced Where She Is readers to Wild Goose Festival performer, Beth Whitney, a singer/songwriter from Washington State. Today I’ll be sharing our email conversation. My questions and responses are in bold, Beth’s words are in normal font.
When did you first figure out you had a great voice? Who encouraged you?
I remember writing a song for an English project in high school. I didn’t think anything of it except that it felt like cheating since it was so easy and fun! After I finished, the class gave me a standing ovation and I was like, “What the … ?” That was a clue, but honestly, I’m still baffled that people ask me to play for them.
Who did you want to be like, when you were young, before you found your own voice?
I saw Jewel play a solo set at Bumbershoot years back and thought, “I really want to do that.” I’d been intimidated thinking I’d need to orchestrate music for a whole band, but she just went up there on her own, full of confidence, and did her thing! She yodeled for the encore. So cool.
What is your first memory of music?
I was chosen to sing the solo at our 6th grade class performance. I had no idea why and thought it should go to someone else who actually sang. So I chickened out and suggested another girl who I knew really wanted it. My dad still teases me about it.
Would you describe music as a spiritual practice or something else entirely?
Sometimes music is a spiritual practice. From time to time, Aaron and I will just worship for hours in the living room. (I hope these times are like rising incense and not clanging symbols!) Then sometimes I’m just goofing around and stumble on a fun melody or hook. Other times it seems to hit me upside the head and I just play it out. Overall, I’d say music is a language. It can destroy or restore, depending on the tongue and heart.
What do you think your music does? What is it for?
I hope the songs I play can stitch up some torn pieces in here and out there. The music I write is for telling stories, worshiping God, and honoring one another.
What about music makes it such a focus, and does it currently do what you want it to do in your life?
Why is it such a focus? I have a difficult time communicating more effectively in any other way.
Well, yes, it does do what I want it to do in my life—though somewhere along the way I became timid and stopped dreaming. In some ways, this kept my intentions pure. In other ways, it may have stifled growth by keeping me from knocking on new doors. I’ve only recently started dreaming again and have discovered that I would really like to tour, write, record, and lead song-writing workshops with Aaron full-time. We are working on making that sustainable for our little family.
Does your music do what you want it to do for other people?
I hope so. The trick is remembering why we’re playing in the first place. Calm the hurricane. Open eyes. I really believe it’s the Holy Spirit that does those things though. So, His call, really.
As a musician is it important to be known? What do you think it is that makes a musician someone who is known to a wide audience?
In the big picture, I’m not sure it is important to be known in the sense that a bunch of people know your name. God provides what we need and if he knows me, what else matters? (That’s all nice in theory but for some reason I keep pushing to be known. Ego? Worry? Human hunger?) I find musicians who are bravely honest, full of charis, and uniquely talented, very difficult to forget.
What singer songwriter splits you open, and why?
Mindy Smith. She lost her mom right before her career took off. It seems to me that artists who have dealt with loss are given extra charis on the stage and in their songs. There is a rawness that reaches in and takes hold. I think the way Jesus suffered on the cross is related to this somehow.
What do you think we are doing here, in this present incarnation?
Whew! Good question. Maybe we’re learning how to sacrifice ourselves for one another. Learning how to die, in other words. It’s the strangest internal battle of wills, losing to win and winning to lose.
I don’t know, Marg. What do you think?
Well, there’s an important distinction I want to toss out for you to ponder. You say, “sacrifice ourselves to one another. Learning how to die, in other words.”
Jesus sacrificed himself. And I think it’s only natural to think that He was setting an example for us. Saying, “Look I want each of you to knowingly let yourself be killed for everyone else, just like I’m doing here.” Standing here, looking out through our humanity, it looks a lot like we are, each of us, being asked to totally die in service to each other.
But I don’t think this. Why would God bother to create us so beautifully if She only wanted us to bring about our own destruction? Jesus’ death was not an example we were supposed to follow. He was Jesus. We are not. We’ve got to leave the sacrifice to Jesus. We can’t do what He did. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we needn’t do so.
But what is up with that Passion story then, for all of us who are not Jesus? I’ll tell you what I think it is, and you are so close. It’s not sacrifice, it’s surrender. It’s living into what you were created to do. It’s Gethsemane. It’s the hard, frightening work of living into what God wants for you even if it seems too crazy, too awful, well beyond your capabilities.
As far as a response… here are some pretty splintered thoughts.
I think I was a bit too vague. I should have answered by giving the lyrics to my song, “One Man.”
Are we all one man
Wrinkles deep set in our hands
Learning how to love?
Are we all one woman
A lovely lady with a baby on the way
Learning how to breathe?
Take this bread
Take this cup
Stay a while with me
Are we all one boy
Swimming out too far
Searching for toys
Learning how to tease?
Are we all one girl
Dressed up in yellow
In our Sunday curls
Just learning how to please?
Take this bread
Take this cup
Stay a while with me
Are we all one heart
Beating fast and broken apart
Learning how to be, and to love, and to see
Take this bread
Take this cup
And stay a while with me
One Man lyrics © by Beth Whitney, used by permission
By “sacrifice” I mean:
∞ “Taking up our cross,” that kind of thing. There is a heaviness to life and the art of becoming human. Love your way of putting it: “Gethsemane”
∞ Serving, not being served. Like, there’s two cookies left. Do I give Aaron the bigger one, or the smaller one? Why?
∞ In some ways, life is the chorus of Jon Foreman’s song “Learning How to Die” with the emphasis on “how” and not “die.”
∞ Surrender. Good word. Doesn’t that take sacrifice though (sacrificing fear and control)? The two words are quite close really, though surrender sounds less, um, violent. Regardless, how are we to treat each other? I think we should not be victims, of course (leading to the over-stretched and probably bitter church worker). But rather we should be fully who we are for everyone’s sake, by “surrendering” to His purpose for us. Filled up by God and pouring it all out in the same breath cycle.
∞ I do think there are times when literally dying is the right thing. Taking a bullet for someone. Or if it came to it, choosing to die rather than kill.
∞ I mean selfishness as blind pursuit/survival and clawed indulgence– sacrifice as, well, letting go of said selfishness in order to promote and carry out what is good and lovely.
∞ Often the sacrifice is rewarding (like maybe running a marathon, er, half marathon?).
∞ My dad always said, “If you want to do something big for God, do something small for someone (seemingly) insignificant.”
∞ Last winter at snow camp, a young girl asked me if I would write a song with her. I didn’t really feel like it. I was kinda tired and had just pulled a great book off the shelf. It was pretty obvious I wasn’t doing anything though, so I agreed. As we talked about what to write, I found the afternoon transforming into a healing session. Her father had died a couple years before and she was being bullied at school. As the snow fell outside, she shared her story and we read Psalm 69. Her song wrote itself really. Four months later, I played guitar as she bravely performed it to a weepy crowd at her school’s talent show. She was beaming with pride. A small sacrifice. A surrender. A reward.
In your dream [see the first paragraphs of Beth’s introduction here], you sang “with all my might” and the crowd stilled. What did it feel like when you were singing with all of your might?
It was just one long note actually and felt like a good solid yell. Perhaps like the Nile: warm, deep, fast, full, coursing, genuine, powerful, and unapologetic. I whitewater rafted the Nile once and at one point between rapids, we got out of the boat and let it carry us in our life jackets. Yeah, it felt like that.
What is the most difficult part of your faith journey? What do you struggle with the most?
My brother died suddenly when I was 18. On a good day, this reminds me that people can go anytime, so I have an elevated appreciation for those I love who are still living. On a bad day, this reminds me that people can go anytime, so I better go ahead and feel anxious about it. I find that I unwittingly anticipate tragedy around every turn. It’s exhausting.
One thing is for sure. God’s compassion was thick and real for my family in that time. My trust in God was redefined that year. I trust God, I really do. But I also accept that He may take away everyone I love in one scoop someday.
I also had a brief run-in with cancer in 2010. It was scary, but I was surrounded by people who loved and cared for me. I felt worse for them having to worry about me and take care of me while I recovered. This time taught me to appreciate my own life and health. I asked God to let me live and have Aaron’s son.
I have the regular musician’s cocktail of anxiety, depression, and a tendency towards tragic thinking. My circumstances are really quite good which can make warrantless depression pretty frustrating, which leads to deeper depression and more frustration. I find that a good run can generally shake me out of my head.
What is the most rewarding part of your faith journey? What brings you the most comfort, the most joy?
Conducting sorrow into a musical art piece– that gives me great joy. Realizing something was tough but I’ve grown because of it, that’s wonderful too. When practice pays off– beautiful.
Now that you have a child do you feel that this has changed your understanding of what it means to be a woman? Does it make you feel a kinship with other women you had not felt before?
I feel so different now.
I love to backpack. Having a child feels like reaching a high mountain pass after a rigorous climb and seeing into a brand new valley. There’s no turning back. A great new love has taken hold and courses through my veins.
I definitely feel a new kinship with other women that I hadn’t before. We are created with the capability to grow and sustain a human being! Look! I feel so powerful and at the same time, I’m a willing puppet to this little one’s needs.
When my brother, Jeff, died, the loss added a sort of far off minor chord to my life, the notes steady, sad, and sung by a worn viola. Oliver has come into my quiet life like a jungle drum.