Identity Formed in Obscurity: The Curious Case of the Silver Beatles
Anyone who has spent more than seventeen minutes with me knows that I am a Beatles fanatic. Sometime around junior year of high school, I heard The Beatles (“The White Album”) and I was hooked. If you aren’t a Beatles fan, you can email me and I’ll meet you in the parking lot. Just kidding. Sort of.
The thing about the Beatles is that most people don’t know the whole story. We all know about Beatlemania and mop-tops and screaming girls and all that. And most people know that before they blew up the world on the Ed Sullivan Show, they were a popular British band from Liverpool. We know about their “creative genius” and Yoko Ono and how they all had unfortunate moustaches during the weird hippie phase.
But do you know the story before all that?
Before there was ever any “Beatles” there were two young teenagers named John and Paul in a band called the “Quarrymen.” They played cheap instruments and did Elvis and Buddy Holly impersonations. The Quarrymen eventually evolved into “Johnny & the Moondogs,” who eventually evolved into “The Silver Beetles” who eventually evolved into...you guessed it, the Beatles.
But underneath the name changes, there’s an even better story. Up to the “Silver Beatles” era, the band was actually...not very good. They couldn’t get anyone to sign them and could hardly find a gig. But there was a certain promoter that booked lots of German clubs, and he knew that British bands typically did alright. So he hired the Beatles for 15 pounds a week each. They’d play for 6-8 hours every night in these nasty German bars where, if they didn’t put on a good show they’d get laughed at, heckled, or beer bottles thrown at them. It was awful living arrangements and an awful environment. They did this for a couple of years. But, something happens when you perform for six to eight hours a day on and off for a couple of years.
The Silver Beatles got good.
But it wasn’t just their performance skills. The band’s entire identity was reshaped. They met a German art student named Astrid, who convinced the boys to start wearing tighter clothing, boots with heels, and cut their hair more like the chic German style. Night after night, each band member started to develop their own persona. John was the intelligent one who could always tell a clever joke. Paul was the cute one who could always get the band pepped up. George was the quiet, introspective one.
So they return to Liverpool, where they could hardly find a gig before, and all the sudden they were selling out the Cavern Club. Except it wasn’t all of the sudden. It was hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of hours of refining their identity as a band in dingy clubs in Germany.
It’s fascinating to me, for a band from Liverpool England, how much of the Beatles’ identity was actually crafted in the relative obscurity of German night clubs. Before anyone knew who John, Paul, George, and Ringo were. Before they ever had a hit song. Before they played for any big crowds. And before these English blokes had any idea that they were going to make more than fifteen pounds a week playing music. If it weren’t for those two years in Germany, we would have never had the Beatles as we know it.
So, awesome story about the Beatles, Nick. But what does this have to do with the Psalms?
I wonder if King David is the sort of like the ancient version of the Beatles? That might sound sacrilegious, but hear me out. David is hands down the most popular king in all of Jewish history. I’m unsure of David’s hairstyle, but we do know that he was beloved by the people, chosen by God, and the most well-known songwriter of all time. Whether you’re Jewish or Christian or not, we’ve all heard the story of David defeating the giant. Thousands of years later, “King David” is still a household name.
But before he was “King” David, he was “poor shepherd boy” David. We know that as a young kid he was sent to shepherd his dad’s flock (because that’s what the younger kids did in those days.) And we know from the Old Testament that somehow, during those formative years as a child, David became a really skilled musician. But not only that, David also formed a relationship with “Yahweh,” the God of his people. We see from the Psalms he wrote later in life that David had a deep, unshakeable trust in God.
Long before he was ever anointed as king, long before he became well-known as the warrior king David, long before his songs were recited in every synagogue for thousands of years...David received his identity from God. Time and time again, he went back to the Father to remember who he was. He developed a deep, intimate, face-to-face kind of relationship with God.
And he did all this in complete obscurity.
I know it’s easy to read these biblical stories and assume that King David is like a superhero, like Odysseus or something. But in truth, David was pretty much just like you and me. Actually, he was pretty much like you or me when we were twelve. And this is the most incredible part about that: God wants you and I to have the same depth of relationship with Him that David did. And the pattern is the same.
An abundant, meaningful life with God is developed by spending time alone with Him. Time spent in solitude with the Father is the place where we receive and remember our identity.
I don’t think the way of connecting with God is the same for everyone, but I do think the pattern is the same. Go be alone with your thoughts and God. It’s really that simple. Maybe for you it’s a hike, or journaling, or writing poetry, or music, or a bike ride, or a long drive in the country, or cooking, or whatever. David’s relationship with God developed while he watched over the sheep. Don’t overcomplicate it. Just find a space where you can be alone, in relative quiet, and focus your attention and talking and listening to God.
Some traditions call this “the secret place.” The place where we come to be alone with our thoughts - good, bad, and ugly - and bring it all to God just like the Psalmists did. The place where our greatest spiritual moments will happen. The place where our “enemies” of fear, shame, and anxiety are conquered. The place where we’re marked by the unfailing love of God. The place where over and over we remember our identity as Sons and Daughters of the Most High, heirs of the Kingdom of God.
This is the place where our identity is formed. And it all happens in obscurity. Before we tell anyone else about it. Before we write a blog or share it with our house church. Before we write songs or preach sermons or post about it on Facebook. This is the place where God wants to meet with us, to love us, to care for us, to shape and mold us whether anyone else ever knows about it or not.
Before God “uses us in big ways,” He wants to commune with us in private. Before we ever slay a giant, we have to put in the hours alone with God in the pasture. If we want to become Kings and Queens, known as people “after God’s own heart,” we have to develop a deep intimacy with His heart. In the quiet, humble moments of the “secret place,” God wants to develop our heart to find our identity in Him.
This is an excerpt from Nick’s sermon at Common Ground West from Sunday, July 30th. Listen to the full sermon here, and if you don’t like the Beatles, you probably shouldn’t really email Nick about it...
Nick Morrow is a pastor and musician at Common Ground West. On a good week he enjoys writing songs, hiking, telling & hearing stories, watching a good film, meticulously building Spotify playlists, and playing "Surfin' Safari" with his kids, a big pillow, and the Beach Boys' music. He enjoys it all with his wife Melissa, their kids Lincoln, Harper, and Crosby, and a fake toy dog named Lucy Boy. He loves his job more than anyone probably should, and God has been kinder to him than he ever imagined.