I got tickets to the David Archuleta concert last night at a cute small old movie theater in downtown Olympia. I got to know the two sitting next to us, striking up a conversation with “So which one of you is the David Archuleta fan?” When they posed the same question, I had to admit that between my wife and I, I am the David Archuleta fan! I know David Archuleta from my high school days at Murray High, where I got to know him briefly before his American Idol tryout jumpstarted a career into music. Since then, I have enjoyed listening to his music, but it was really his song from the movie Meet the Mormons “Glorious” and his newest album “Postcards in the Sky” that I have come to appreciate his music on a deeper level for its spiritual themes that ring true to me. When I first heard Postcards, I thought kind of approached it like JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings: it isn’t explicitly Christian and perhaps you shouldn’t read too deep into it, but it’s Christian origin gives it a new level of meaning.
But I was surprised at the concert by how much David was willing to share with the audience about the stories behind the songs, and the growth experiences behind each one. David, in his own quiet and humble way, took control of the stage and did it his way. You could tell that many in the audience wanted to fan-boy him– and he gave them a few moments– but that’s not what defines him. He talked the difficulty following your still small voice in the face of popularity, a fan base, and career planners all pushing you for something you aren’t sure that you want (“You have to do a love song, because that’s what sells the most”). He talked about the difficulty coming home from his mission and having to re-immerse yourself in a selfish career path: “I have to admit, this is a very selfish job description: I have to convince you all to buy things with my face on it, and post about me all the time, get as many likes as possible, because the job depends on it.” And he talked about the moment when he realized that he could put himself and what he valued into his music. When he came back from his mission, he was meeting with his manager, and expressed that he wasn’t really sure that he still wanted all this, and whether a music career was right for him. The manager responded that he should at least sit down for the writing session he had scheduled the next day. He went, and he was very blunt with the writers when they asked what was on his mind: “I just got back from my mission, I have a new set of priorities, and I’m not even sure I want to be here today.” The writers answered sympathetically, “Well, why don’t you write about that?” And that’s how “Postcards in the Sky” started.
David sang a few songs from other artists as well. My favorite was singing along to The Greatest Showman, which I also have listened to enough times to have memorized. When he asked the audience, “How many of you like Disney?” he pulled out a song from Lion King 2. The audience laughed a little disappointedly at first because no one probably knows the soundtrack to Lion King 2, but the song itself fit in with his overall theme and was very touching:
Hear these words and have faith,
He lives in you
He lives in me
He watches over
Everything we see
Into the water
Into the truth
In your reflection
He lives in you
He also sang a song from a movie I was unfamiliar with (“Mercy Me”?) about a son who was abused by his father, but in the end was able to forgive him and witness as his father changed. David talked about the people in our lives that we see as monsters– and sometimes perhaps rightly so. And while we may need to distance ourselves from them, we should see them as fellow travellers with their own set of problems and challenges, and give them room to grow. I loved the lyrics:
I can only imagine what it will be like,
When I walk, by your side,
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine.
I can only imagine.
I felt a measure of peace from David’s message, and a connection to my own life. It may not be as eye-catching as a career in music, but academia is just as competitive and can sometimes demand moral compromises, doing things just for the prestige, and re-aligning your priorities. I have felt a similar disharmony between my values and the supposed requirements of my career choice. In one seminar discussing preparation for a tenure track faculty position, I brought up a concern that teaching doesn’t seem to be as high a priority as I had anticipated. I had naively thought that going into education, teaching would be at the top of your list. I have had a range of responses from different mentors. Some said if I wanted teaching to be important to me, I would have to make it important to me. One cynic told me teaching was “like taking out the trash.” While a career in science seems rewarding for its apparent unbiased approach, its use of the scientific method, and its call for curiosity, it has a darker side that some never see: it is motivated by prestige, pursuing widely read journals and high impact factors, and background politics in funding and advancement. David’s stories were a reminder to me that I don’t need to make moral compromises, and that even if it takes a sacrifice in terms of worldly status, being at peace with yourself is of far greater value.