Posted by: Keith Clark | August 8, 2009

Nobody’s Business?

One of the common ways people pass time is to play what I call the “Desert Island Game.” The idea is to pose a question to a group about what they couldn’t live without were they to find themselves stranded on a desert island. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of the game; I’d prefer not to have to make such choices. But if I were forced to choose just one type of music I could listen to while stranded on a desert island, it would probably be the blues. There’s something about the honesty of the lyrics and the dynamics of the music that surpasses most other music.

What fascinates me is the schizophrenic attitude at the heart of blues music. On the one hand, blues is, at its core, a means of opening oneself up, of revealing one’s inner turmoil to anyone who will hear. Often the songs give voice to cries of deep hurt or to shouts of protest. As such, they serve to invite others into those stories, and to take action of some kind as a result, whether reaching out to the narrator to comfort or rescue, or to join in the narrator’s cries. On the other hand, however, there’s a deeply ingrained notion of privacy inherent in many blues standards. Perhaps no song represents this better than “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” which has been recorded by numerous artists, including B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Jonny Lang, and Susan Tedeschi. The song’s chorus, which repeatedly declares, “Ain’t nobody’s business what I do,” serves to build walls between the singer and the audience. The incoherence of these two sentiments is quite clear: you can’t invite people into your mess and then tell them to stay out.

While we may not all enjoy listening to the blues, the incoherence of these two sentiments reflects with incredible accuracy the incoherence in many of our own lives. We want to pour out our cries of hurt and shouts of protest to God, but we don’t want God getting involved in our business. We want to pour out our cries of hurt and shouts of protest to our brothers and sisters in our community of faith, but we don’t want them getting involved in our business. Whether it’s Jesus telling the woman caught in adultery to leave sin behind her, or Paul encouraging the loyal yokefellow in Philippi to intervene in the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche, or James instructing his audience to confess their sins to each other and pray for each other, the witness of Scripture is clear: our lives are not to be closed off from God and from others, but open that God through the Spirit and through others can work to transform us to be like Christ. May we never allow our culture’s obsession with privacy to keep us from Christ-like openness to God and to each other.

I wonder: what concrete steps can we take to be more open to God and to each other?



  1. Enjoyed Church and dinner…keep up the good blog! CA

  2. What an interesting thought.. blues as schizophrenia. I love the humanity of this idea.. like the singer is saying "come on in.. just make sure you stay out". I feel like I see this a lot in art. Like the artist is spilling their souls and in the same instance daring anyone to try and silence them. It always brings to mind Jeremiah who said "then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it."I always thought this was such an interesting sentiment and sounds so similar to so many artists that I have met. They do art not because it will ever be seen or heard, but because there is a fire in their bones…I suspect that giving voice to our own schizophrenic fire's is probably a good start to moving beyond our schizophrenia and learning to open ourselves up to God and others. ~my two cents. 🙂

  3. Connie, we enjoyed the chance to visit as well. Thanks for joining in here!Joel, I think you're exactly right that recognizing and giving voice to our own internal struggles is the starting place. And indeed I think that is why blues is so appealing, because there is a sense of courage and audacity to explore the struggles. That is precisely what is often absent in popular expressions of Christian faith, which instead try to hide or battle those struggles instead of inviting God and others to inhabit them. Thanks for sharing!

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