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First Things, August 2015

August 5, 2015

Recently I finished reading a memoir by a contemporary composer named Phillip Glass. Philip Glass has written more than 20 operas, 10 symphonies, several film scores and numerous other works of music. He was born in Baltimore but moved to New York as a young man, in the 1960s. He found a place to live in the (then-affordable) East Village. To support himself while he established his career in music, he worked as a mover, a plumber, and a taxi driver.

Philip Glass couldn’t have done the remarkable things he has done in music if he didn’t have a personal talent. But as I read his story I was struck by how much of his success was also a product of his living in an environment in which he was surrounded by other artists. Phil Glass wouldn’t have become Phil Glass if he had stayed in Baltimore.

New York in the 1960s was the center of the universe for artists. A new generation of artists had gathered there providing encouragement, influence, and inspiration, and an older generation of artists were still working in the city providing support and examples. Philip Glass found friends, collaborators, teachers and critics, who worked together to push him further than he would have gone on his own. And of course he did that same service for his friends.

A church is like that. A successful church is successful because of the vibrant community we create together. One person working alone can’t make a church, and can’t even make much happen in their own spiritual life. But working together we help each other, and our church, become a success.

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