O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:8).

I’ve been an amateur guitarist for about 40 years now. I started playing at sixteen, primarily learning by teaching myself from books. Over the years, I’ve discovered a great many fascinating things about the guitar that I had no inkling of when I started out.

One of those discoveries has come only in this decade. It’s the concept of alternate tunings. In an earlier blog, entitled “DADGAD” (October 9, 2008), I talked about the lesson changing and playing one of my guitars in that tuning taught me. In this post, I want to share a couple more insights I gained while talking with some folks about leadership at a conference last month.

In our small group, we were discussing various ways of leading, specifically making changes in our approaches as necessary for a situation. I said that reminded me of the capability of a guitar to be tuned different ways depending on the preference of the musician and the piece being played. Standard tuning (EADGBE, low to high) is fine for strumming chords or leading singing. DADGAD is great for “fingerstyle” as played, for example, by Pierre Bensusan. “Drop D,” in which the lowest string is tuned down from E to D is useful in rock, while open tunings (like tuning the guitar to play an E or G chord on open strings) are great for slide and blues.

All that on the same instrument. Of course, a standard guitar can’t produce the resonant tones of a bass or the mellow sounds of a baritone (tuned a fifth lower than standard). But it’s still incredibly versatile.

My point here is that all of us have our standard tuning, as it were. That’s our typical way of responding to a situation, the default setting that we go back to in a crisis. Anyone who has ever taken the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory has discovered his or her standard approach to the world around. Sometimes our normal way is helpful and appropriate. We are served well in our work by being a “commander,” for example. Or our family has appreciated our intuitive grasp of others’ feelings and needs.

At other times, though, we will need to adapt, to tune ourselves (or allow ourselves to be tuned) differently, if only for a time. The introvert has to draw on his or her opposite pole, the extrovert, in order to relate well to someone else, even though the effort is emotionally, even physically, draining. The commander will need to discover how to collaborate when part of a team, contributing ideas, but not pronouncing final judgment on them.

The good news is that we can in fact adapt. We each have it within ourselves to change a little bit (“drop D”), moderately (“DADGAD”) or even a great deal (open tunings). The key factor is what we most care about. Do we value above all our comfort with what’s familiar, whether our usual approach works or not? Or do we care most about effectively carrying out God’s call to us, even when it’s clear we must adapt by, say, giving up control or deciding to listen seriously to someone else’s viewpoint?

The Chief Musician wants to play beautiful music through us. And he will if we are simply open to his creativity in our lives.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham