“It is strange to be out there and you’re never really alone. You’re infront of so many people and connected on such a grand scale. But you miss actual intimacy and home and connection. You start living for the gigs and the stage because the stage becomes the only normal place because everything else changes but the stage seems to stay the same. And then the stage becomes your whole existence, and that’s slightly terrifying as well.” Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine).
When I first read this quote from a Radio Times interview I could immediately relate the experience of this singer to my former life as a pulpit preacher. The stage was the pulpit, my whole existence became trying to find something to say (what God was saying of course) from the pulpit, the stage appeared to be the only place I could be normal and the audience, my listeners, needed to be uplifted (entertained). On the stage I was never alone, whether there were 12 or 1200 or more there was a feeling of connection on a grand scale. For that moment this shy boy from the Suffolk farm lands had people’s full attention. People who wanted to hear what you had to say. People you could teach, lead, influence, correct, interpret Scriptures for. For 30 minutes to an hour my gig was to communicate something that people would go home and talk about or give that feel-good factor. Reading the Bible became a finding the next sermon session, my work was being paid to prepare the sermon and communicate it, to tickle the ears, to empower people to do it for themselves, as long as they came back again next week to hear me again. When the stage becomes your life no wonder you lose your identity.
Who am I?
I could not believe how lonely it was stepping out of the pulpit arena a few years ago. I could not believe how much of my identity as Paul Leader was wrapped up in what I was doing. The detox that had to take place, and is still taking place in many ways, went so deep I actually lost for a season who I was. I was Paul the preacher. A mean preaching machine. Paul a prophet who can just turn out a Word at the flick of a switch. People knew this man, but never really knew me. The strange thing is I had become this man and that is all I had got to know. Even I did not know the real Paul Leader beyond the stage. We see this with musicians and actors all the time. The stage person becomes the reality; where is the line of distinction between Jordan and Katy Price? Where does Boy George end and George O’Dowd begin? Does anybody ever talk to the real Paul Hewson or is it just Bono full time? Does anyone, including myself, know the real Paul Leader beyond the pulpit or the preaching or the prophecy? Over the last 5-6 years I have been reintroduced to him. Don’t like everything I find but it’s real. It is so easy to live behind the performance and the stage and hide the real broken you. How many comedians are really broken people? How many pulpit people are broken people who have not really got it all together? I had perfected the art of the actor to engage with my audience, they did not have to know the real me. But it is lonely. Surrounded with people but very few real friends. Not knowing whether people relate to you for your gift or for who you really are. I think that was answered when I finally stepped away from the church system and from the pulpit, friends I thought I had disappeared. People who I had shared some deep stuff with were now nowhere to be seen. They obviously only related to the other me, the actor, the pulpit man, the one living for the stage.
The Yearning Inside.
The yearning for actual intimacy, home and connection. To relate to people on a level of love and friendship, not based on what you do but who you are. To love the man off the stage who may not be as attractive all the time as the man on it, make-up can cover so many blemishes. I thank God that on the journey I am finding some real friends, people who love me and my family as fellow pilgrims walking through life together. That for these people I do not have to put on the performance of a life time. They want to walk with Paul Leader off the stage wherever that walk takes us. There is still times to share and talk and use what gift is inside, but not as performance, instead on a level playing field. Home is where the heart is. My family, my life, my friends, homes of fellow journey makers. Eating, laughing, sharing, crying, praying, eating again. Connections that are real and two way. Joining the dots on earth that have already been joined in heaven. Connecting with people who want to walk with Paul Leader the person not the performer. Living for life and not for the stage. Longing for reality and not the stage-managed. Now my whole existence is every day; work, family, friends, sharing, silence, together, alone, active, inactive. All done while rediscovering the real me. Is this what you yearn for or do you still prefer the stage and the staged? This detox may take some time yet.