Well, i can hardly say thanks enough to those of you who sent letters in response to the eulogy for Tyler. i’ve saved them all and was touched by your kindnesses. What must it mean that we love our animals so much?
His place at my feet is still awkwardly empty, but i’m heartened by y’all’s goodness. And i’m glad that his collaborations with me have been shared with so many. He was a great friend. (Incidentally, we had some new songs written before Tyler’s departure and you might hear some of them in the future. i sang one last week in Atlanta, “Wrong Side of the Door.” … Once you start seeing life through a dog’s eyes, it’s hard to stop.) ….
i guess we can say that summer 2002 is over, despite this muggy Saturday evening. Mine was good. i did not stay home quite as much as i had hoped to but did begin and end many days on my front porch, and very much enjoyed the travels that took me away from home.
i spent two delightful, and happily exhausting, weeks at Timberwolf Lake, a Young Life camp property near Cadillac, Michigan in July. i never attend YL summer camp without being changed for the better. And i probably say, every time an assignment is over, that it was the best ever. Working with Mike Ashburn and Wayne Patterson, having my nephew Levi along with me, meetings kids of every description (mostly from the Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois region), and being part of sharing “the greatest love story ever told” made for a rich time. … And to my pleasant surprise, and in spite of my enormous fear that the music i do simply will not ‘work’ with teenagers anymore, that part went well too.
And hello to camp friends who might be stopping by here. Thanks for being there.
Then, there was a memorable long weekend at Camp Greystone, where the entire Miller family made me feel like family from the minute i got to their beautiful place in Tuxedo, NC. For a few days, i felt like i had about 450 daughters. So enjoyable.
i really do have a fear, an anxiety, about working musically with young groups (anything younger than college aged) for the reason that the things i write and sing just don’t seem to be in their groove. For several years now, it has been our policy to give a guiltless “no” to invitations from youth groups. It’s not at all a pride thing, or a fear of ‘the dumb, blank stare.’ It’s simply a desire to maximize use of my time away from home, and a belief that what i do is better suited for an older listener. Kids always surprise me though, as does the inherent power of music to jump walls.
(Incidentally, even though we continue to decline most youth group opportunities– with great thankfulness that someone might even consider me for such an invitation — i do go, as often as they’ll let me, to schools in my community, as long as i only play for one classroom at a time. i don’t know that there is anything in this world i enjoy more than playing to a class of first or second graders.)
i’m thankful for the Young Life and Greystone experiences which gave me reason to think that songs can reach through the generational divide, and can do their work if i’ll just get out of the way. …
i read lots of books this summer and, as i sit here right now, cannot remember the name of a single one.
i recently got my first pair of reading glasses. They really help. …
i got a letter not too long ago from a little girl who drew me a picture of God. He is blue, in case you didn’t know, and bears a rather strong resemblance to the Cookie Monster. She asked me to send her one in return. What would you do?
Of course, i could give a deeply theological answer, with allusion to the “make no images” injunction from the ten commandments. i could send a blank piece of paper and let her figure out what i’m trying to say. i could send a copy of that familiar face drawing of Jesus that is on Sunday School walls. Or a picture of something both strong and beautiful and say “God is kind of like this.” It’s really quite a big task to be asked by a little girl to draw a picture of God. Maybe i’ll write her a song.
What would you do?
i’m grateful that she was kind enough to share her picture of God with me, and am challenged that she trusted me to know, or at least have some idea of what God looks like.
Not sure yet how i’ll answer, but I’m thankful for the question.
Forgive the randomness of these thoughts. They are hurriedly scribbled.
Blessings to you for helping me see what God looks like.
June 23, 2002
Just wanted to say quick hello and thank those of you who have written or emailed words of encouragement about the new CD. I ‘m always a bit curious as to how these recording are received by others, and I’m grateful to those of you who take time to write, even if it is to offer constructive criticism (which is always welcome).
Couple of things …
I was at the post office recently and noticed that a lady had locked her keys in her car. She and a couple of others, including what appeared to be a locksmith or mechanic, were trying to get the door opened. It took awhile.
What was rather entertaining about the whole thing was that, in what could have been a dangerous mistake on her part, the lady had locked two little kids in the car. My guess is that the oldest was 2. Maybe before, maybe after, calling the locksmith, someone realized the obvious: we can simply tell the little boy to hit the unlock button. Well, the little boy seemed to understand the word “button” or “knob” all too well. He just didn’t know which one was “unlock.” By the time I walked by the car, the lights were on, the windshield wipers were going, and no telling what else had been engaged in his effort to simply open the door. He had apparently hit every knob but the right one.
He was pushing all the buttons to simply find his way out.
Ultimately, it took someone else to get in.
Is that how God works somehow?
Last weekend was Father’s Day. I spent the morning with my dad, a praiseworthy man on everyday of the year. We are good enough friends that we know each other’s shortcomings all too well. That said, I admire him deeply and hope that, if I live to be 74, I’ll grow into many of his attributes. …
I have yet to meet a better storyteller. And his lightness of heart is fascinating to me. Here’s one example:
Dad gets his hair cut at a shopping center establishment for men, women, and kids. It’s one of those places where you sign in and get your haircut by the next stylist available. There is typically always a wait, which means that you almost always have to write your name on the ‘sign in’ pad.
Dad has a practice of inventing a new name whenever he goes to the haircut place. And he doesn’t use just ordinary names like Joe or Robert. He makes up names that are difficult to read, and questionable to pronounce, names, for example, like Ralopiphilus and Gliorzetchy and Ricolia and Momang. I’ve been with him when he pulls this prank and it is worth an admission ticket to watch the face of the stylist when she has to call out his name. Sometimes, they’ll ask a co-worker to help them read the pad. Dad tells me that the attempted pronunciations and the typical mispronunciations can be hilarious.
I always look forward to the days when dad goes to get a haircut. It’s a small thing, of course, but it’s one of the reasons that I’m thankful for him.
Dads, do you ever make your kids laugh? Do you ever do something a little outside the lines (but innocent) to teach your kid the law of “lighten up?” While there is certainly laughter that is rooted in cruelty or cynicism or sarcasm or irreverence, I wonder if anyone who doesn’t laugh from time to time can really be holy in the sense that God wants us to be holy.
… I’ll head out this week to a couple of weeks in Michigan, where I’ll be doing a Young Life camp. I’m amazed that a 46 year old, folkish kind of singer can connect musically with kids but, at least in years past, it’s worked. Seems like each year about this time, I have an acute fear that this will be the year of the dumb, vacant, distant stare, when the songs I write just don’t work. I’ll report back after camp to let you know how it goes.
Blessings to each of you. And thanks again for your kindness to me.
May 16, 2002
i have been chastised for letting the site languish and thought a ‘postcard’ sized note might be a first step in the process of repentance. Sorry for the long delay, and i’m grateful that you visit this page enough to make new letters necessary.
i had hoped to complete “the Moon is Round” by late March so that i could enjoy a month of R and R during April. i was home for the entire month but ended up working on the new CD until April 25th, when i had the final tracks mastered for production.
As some of you might know, the recording process can be painfully slow and tedious, especially when, as in my case, your production/engineering skills are extremely limited. i worked long days to get the project completed and am very pleased to have it done. My good intentions of catching up on letter writing, of reading lots, of writing a new batch of songs, of updating the website, etc, etc, all fell prey to the recording.
We hope to have the new CD delivered by late May and will let you know of its availability. We’ll also be putting some of my thoughts and background to the songs on the site very soon.
i’ve got some other items that should be on the site in the next three or four weeks.
i’ll interview/visit with a very gifted singer/songwriter named Matt Auten for the “no ordinary people” page. We’ll have some of his music for you to hear.
i’m hoping, too, to record some of the time that i’ll be rehearsing with Bebo Norman for a concert he and i will do in late May. Maybe that will be on a future “no ordinary people.”
i’ll have a new newsletter, a real letter, which i’m writing for the tenth birthday of a friend’s son.
i’ll be posting a new “story and song” with a song that i wrote in March after a young couple got engaged at a gathering i was playing for.
That’s what i’ll be working on so please bear with me and stay tuned.
Lest i create the impression that the month of April was all work and no play, let me say that it was a beautiful time to be at the farm. Most days started early on my front porch. Many ended there.
i fished with my nephews. i turkey hunted with my brother and bagged my first turkey. i went to bed almost every night at 10 o’clock. i enjoyed the Thursday morning men’s group that meets at my house each week (often in my absence). i finished several books and made phone calls that i’ve wanted to make for a long time. i attended Harris County Life Young Life club each week here at the farm. i spent lots of time with my Dad and brother. i started lots of new songs. i monitored some bird nests from construction, to eggs, to first flight. i worked in the yard.
It was a wonderful month.
For years, i have heard of a fellow here in Harris County named Bobby Joe Baxley, a long time resident of the county who retired from the Georgia Power Company a few years ago and renowned for his ability to fix or build anything. Surprisingly, even though we live fairly close in this sparsely populated area, i never met him till about a year ago. He is known around these parts as doer of good deeds, a man with a huge heart. There is a local proverb of sorts that says, “in case of emergency, call ‘9-1-1 Bobby Joe.’ He has become one of my truest heroes in life. His life is pretty simple, his love for Christ and for people authentic and visible, his speech is full of gratitude, and his wisdom is plain-spoken and practical.
My hot water heater ‘went out’ on me last week. i am as unmechanical as a man can be and barely knew how to turn off the water flow to the unit. i did figure it out though and was able to prevent any big calamity. “Call Bobby Joe.”
When BJ was at the house for our Thursday morning study, i asked him what i needed to do. i did not mean for him to do any work; i just needed to know what to do, even if the correct answer was “call a plumber.” Well, a few days later, Bobby Joe changed out the water heater for me.
When he finished the work, i carried his tool bag out to his truck. It weighs about 30 pounds and contains an assortment of pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, and other utensils that only an expert handy man would know how to use. The bag, one can easily tell, has been carried to lots of locations to do lots of jobs.
As i’ve shared before, i think often of the words in Acts which describe the life of Jesus: “He went around doing good.” These days, Bobby Joe Baxley comes to mind a lot when i consider those words. And i suspect that, with his old tool bag, he’s done more to change this world for the better than a whole battalion of Senators and Congressmen.
Maybe i’ll try a song sometime about that old tool bag.
Thanks again for keeping me in good repair with your bag of kind words and encouragement.
Enjoy the springtime.
March 12, 2002
Just a quick hello, with thanks to you again for visiting our site.
All’s well. i took a day off today (actually stayed inside to catch up on paperwork, calls, and non-musical tasks that have been nagging at me lately) after a very busy couple of weeks traveling and working in the studio. i’m closing in on completion of a new CD, having spent a couple of days with Ed Cash recently at his studio in Franklin, TN and then a very long couple of weeks in my own small studio here. Old friend, King Davis, who’s been helping me with music since i was doing it as a hobby during my law practice days, worked with me this past weekend to begin mixing the songs which were recorded here. It’s a tedious process and, by the time you’ve finished the CD (at least when you do things the way that small operators like myself do, where you’re very involved at every stage of the project), you’ve lost all objectivity and, frankly, are pretty tired of hearing the songs. I’m encouraged though that folks who hear this recording are kind in their assessment of it.
In case you’re interested, the new project will be entitled “the Moon is round.” The final song list will be The Headset Song (about trying to watch a movie without the headset on a flight to Seattle), Carnival of Counterfeits, Where the People Walk Backwards, Comfort 17, Happy Lightning (one of the songs Ed produced for me), Love of a Different Kind, Land of Love, Love to Give Away (about being single), The Moon is Round (another Ed production, with vocal help from Bebo Norman), and Think about it.
Additionally, i’m going to make a small talk at the end of the CD, almost like a Young Life club talk. Why?
i am very aware that many creative types hold to the idea that “art” should never be explained by the “artist.” (i put those terms in quotation marks because i’m rather distrustful of their ambiguity and the pretentiousness which often comes with their use. For what i do, i choose to simply call them ‘songs.’) i rather like the idea put forth by CS Lewis that art should teach and delight, and i’ve tried, as a songwriter, to make music consistent with those goals. That said …
When i started to think of doing a new project, my first in a couple of years, i was going to record some things that i’ve written since ‘change for the better.’ When i was putting the song list together, it occurred to me that they were all allegorical snapshots of Christ’s Gospel as i, one believer, understand it. Most of the songs being parables, their meanings are not necessarily on the surface. i have no doubt that many people, probably most (and especially those with sympathetic views), could figure out for themselves exactly what i’m trying to communicate in the songs. But my hope is that many, even who have unsympathetic views, might listen to them; and upon listening, might even be a little curious. The talk at the end, which follows the last song, will ‘connect the dots’ and explain in broad terms what the songs were intended to communicate.
One other thing: you might wonder why i’m including new versions of “Love of a different kind” and “Land of Love.” Well, they just help make the picture which i’m trying to paint clearer.
One of the nice things about being an independent singer/songwriter is that i can do things differently than i’d be able to do if i were bound to a record company. It’s a pleasant, if risky, freedom. …. And i only get to do what i do because ones like you make it possible. i might say it to the point of seeming insincere about it, but i do, i really do, appreciate your encouragement and affirmation of my work. If you hear the new project when it comes out, i hope that you’ll find it good for your heart, your mind, your soul, and that you might find some usefulness for it with your friends and family.
We’re hoping to have “the Moon is round” done and available by late April, early May and will put a note on the website.
Blessings to each of you.
Life is good.
June 4, 2007
Greetings from a song-inspiring front porch, a place where I hope to spend considerable time while I’m home this summer. I played my last job a couple of weeks ago in Frisco, Texas, near Dallas, and am now off the road until mid August. While I look forward to some rest after a quite full winter and spring, I’m also eager to write and resume creative work which has languished as I’ve traveled and been involved with a number of local weekly obligations. It’s good to be home, living on a routine, writing, and moving at a slightly slower speed. If you were sitting beside me, taking in the long shadows of dusk across the pond and the pastures, you’d know why I love this beautiful place as I do.
We have a high school friend, practically a member of the family, who works for us from time to time here at the farm. He’ll be around a lot this summer. Last week, on pay day, he informed me that he was getting ready to open a “Ferris Wheel Account” at the bank. I was not quite sure what he meant so, as you would have done, asked him what a “Ferris Wheel Account” was. Here’s what I learned.
For approximately $5000, you can rent a Ferris Wheel for a day or two. It will be delivered and set up at the site of your choosing.
JJ does not do very much dating at present but looks forward to the day, probably still some years away, that he might get married. He wants to make the proposal something special and has in mind to rent a Ferris Wheel for the occasion. He envisions having it set up in the middle of his grandparents’ pasture where he will take his bride-to-be for the “will you marry me” moment. And he’s going to start saving money for it now, hence, a Ferris Wheel Account. Don’t tell him, but I’m of a mind to give him FW bonuses from time to time, to help the cause. If I gave a “happy lighting” award this year, he would be a strong contender, though I should probably wait until his plan comes to fruition.
I’ve a hunch that there’s a song in there somewhere.
Strong recommendation: the DVD series “Planet Earth”, narrated by David Attenborough. Stunning beauty. It makes a great tandem to DVD’s Louie Giglio called “Indescribable” and “How Great is Our God.”
I was both surprised and gratified by response to last month’s newsletter. I was particularly pleased that so many of you seemed to engage in your own internal conversation about the subject at hand. Thanks to the many of you who wrote. I’d like to share excerpts from two letters that were especially thoughtful and thought-provoking. (Not only do they address the question posed in my letter with graceful eloquence, they give you some idea of how fortunate I am to have a mailbox.)
The first was written by an English professor in Grand Rapids:
“ My first thought as I was reading your posting what that his is the typical secular/sacred divide that is so pernicious. It makes a number of troubling assumptions. After all, if Paul tells the Corinthians to do ‘whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (emphasis I should say on ‘whatever’ and ‘all’), then she missed Jesus in all sorts of places – in the work done by the set up crew, in the serving of the food and drink, in work of the historical society itself. Surely, some of those people were professing Christians doing their work to the glory of God. We are not very attentive if we don’t see amazing witness all around us. Do you know the Dutch thinker, Abraham Kuyper, and his wonderful comment: ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’ And of course, (Gerard Manley) Hopkins celebrates all of this beautifully in ‘Pied Beauty’:
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-fall; finches’ wing;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet; sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
It seems to me that art helps wake us up and be attentive – not just to the transcendent, but to the quotidian. To all these things: not just the cow, but the patches on the cow; not just the trout, but the spots on the trout; not just the finch, but the finches’ wings; not just the earth, but the cultivated earth in all it splendorous cultivation; not just what we do, but the things that help us do it (the gear and tackle and time). And then, of course, all of this should lead us to the affirmation, “Praise Him.”
But as you say, I need the “dots” before I can move to the praise. And I think you are right too to understand just how alien much “church-y” language sounds to the non-Christian (people raised in the church need to be reminded of that and often) – and in the culture we live in, how many assumptions people make about “Jesus-y” language. Because of the way his name has been misused, people automatically shut down and stop listening. That doesn’t mean that we stop using it, naturally, but as Ecclesiastes point out, everything in its season. I think a reading of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus didn’t spend all his time preaching. Neither, then, should we. To return to my beloved Hopkins again –“Christ plays in ten thousand places”- We must BE the Word as much as we SAY the Word.
Her comment also evinces a rather un-Christian view of work. One of the things that was so radical about the Reformation was its transformation of vocation- esp. considering that Classical views saw work as curse, not as possibility or service. Then, too, the medieval Christian view — that only the work done by religious folk (nuns and priests) was consecrated to God — was drastically overturned by Luther and Calvin who said all work was valuable and God-honoring. I think that sets the standard so much higher too: after all, it’s at least as hard to live the daily stuff faithfully as it is to do “overtly” holy things. I think your concert falls in the former category.
Should Christian artists only write/perform explicitly Christian material? The logical next question: should Christians only listen to/read explicitly Christian material. To both I say: I think not- since such a distinction is really a false one. Augustine, after all, claims that “all truth is God’s truth.” Saying the name “Jesus” (and I do take your point about the importance of indeed saying it often and unapologetically) in a song or a story or a poem makes something no more Christian than me standing in the gardens makes me a carrot! The collection (of short stories) I sent you demonstrates that well—many of them never make reference to God or Christ, and yet they are grace-filled and holy. And help me live a better more God honoring life. Henry Zylstra who taught at Calvin in the 1940s wrote a little book in which he argues that literature should give us “more to be Christian with.” It is by understanding multitude of stories what we come to understand the magnitude of Christ’s redemptive work.”
And then, from my very good friend and surely one of the most kind-hearted professors anywhere, Dr. Pat of William Jewell College, I received these words of thoughtful encouragement:
“(A)bout the dilemma you raise: does – or did – the absence of explicit mention of Christ constitute some sort of dishonoring or turning away? You do not ask for responses from us, but I have found the pondering very helpful, so may I share a few thoughts it has brought to mind and heart?
On the one hand, we are, all of us, of course, called to speak His word of truth, to preach the gospel, wherever we go. It can probably be said for most of us, certainly for his pilgrim, that we do too little of that.
On the other hand, it does seems to me that there are degrees of explicitness in speaking the message of Christ, and the most is not in all cases God’s best for a number of reasons. I have not heard all of the songs (you sang at the event in question), but I have heard many, and those that do not contain some Christward arrow are few. “’Rusty Strings’ includes a prayer; ‘Someone’s Been here’ quite clearly invites the hearer to ask who has been here? ‘Hurricane of ‘96’ refers to God’s constructive work within His children. There is a good bit to be said for subtlety, especially with groups who consider themselves – whether rightly or not – to be intelligent or educated. I have seen such folk ‘tune out’ when they sensed they were being ‘preached at.’
Then, too, the songs, your words, indeed, each of us, is but part of the puzzle as God reaches into a life. Though I fear I often ‘drop the ball,’ I, as a member of the ‘audience’ who loves Christ, have a responsibility to bring His truth to others present as surely as you do, the more so because the setting is often one of conversational interchange.
Part of the reason the songs delight, I think, is because they invite a sort of treasure hunt, something like what Lewis’ Chronicles (of Narnia) do. There are many situations where the later pondering will yield much more fruit than if the connections were made quite explicit at the time.
With Nicodemus, Jesus painted the salvation plan fairly explicitly, but with many others, He gave at the time only the very necessary element that would connect with each heart. Does the singer, public speaker, college lecturer disobey Him when there is no explicit reference? Only, I think, to the degree that such explicitness is prompted by His guidance for that occasion.
Hard to discern whether the unease resulting from a conversation is the conviction of God or the jibes of Satan? Oh yes, and a hundred times more so for the very self-critical individual. But if we are growing in grace, He is sharpening our hearing through each of these disquieting wrestling sessions.
The question voiced that evening was, perhaps – whether the speaker knew it or not – as much for all of us as for you.”
Among other goals for the summer, i’m hoping to write a new batch of songs, learn some new recording technology, and maybe get a few things down to tape (or hard drive) just for fun. At present, in the week and a half at home so far, I’ve gotten 6 or 7 songs either completed or substantially completed. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any uninterrupted time to write. Even if the things I’m working on new never see the light of day, my hours spent wrestling with words and ideas are so, so, so enjoyable. Maybe as I get some done, I’ll do rough recordings for the site. No promises, but maybe. Songs so far include ones about a man with Alzheimers (Who is Daddy Now?); one about a town in Guatemala, Joyabaj (where my niece lives and which I visited last month); one about the great writer of Westerns, Louis L’Amour (That’s the Reason I rea Louis L’Amour); a song for Communion (Never Empty Table); one which celebrates a sunset and a hammock (Sweetness); one about the scourge of pornography (Baiting the Bull); one love song of sorts called “It’s Enough for me Just to be with You”; and a couple of others that I’m forgetting right now. (I am telling you all of this because I want my webmaster, tyrant that he is, to read this and know that I really have been working down here. His favorite message to leave on my answering machine is “Need something fresh. Give me something fresh. It’s getting stale up here.”)
Lots more I could say but the sun is just below the horizon and it’s time to focus on this one-of-a-kind moment. I feel like God has put up a Ferris Wheel just for me. I dare not miss the ride.
Blessings to y’all. Thanks again for your kindnesses to me. They are many, and they are appreciated. Really they are.
If I had written a website entry every time I thought about it these past four months, I would have delivered up a tome to you. What usually happens is this: I read or see or hear or experience something and immediately think that it would be a subject worth fleshing out in words. The internal dialog begins and continues as I walk, ride, work, or do daily things until the idea is ready to be written about. Problem is, by then, some other thought or inspiration has crept in and taken over center stage, another private conversation begins, and the cycle just goes on and on, with nothing written, until Webmaster Ben, or one of you, compels me (usually with guilt) to put something on paper. The very nice thing about the cycle is that I always tend to have a head full of interesting conversations in progress, some of which eventually turn into songs or into spoken discussions with others even if they never make it to print.
Since most all of those recent thoughts presently escape me, I’ll just share what is turning in my mind at this very moment, a beautiful Sunday afternoon …
Part of my work includes the pleasant, if at times uncomfortable, experience of receiving thanks or greetings when I finish playing a concert. Many of those moments have allowed me to meet some wonderful souls, to begin some fruitful and lasting friendships, and to receive both affirmation and critique of the songs I’ve sung. … And sometimes, I am extremely challenged, even bothered, by things that listeners share with me.
After the short visits, there is the ritual of loading up (usually in a room which is empty by now), followed by the drive home if the gig was one that didn’t require air travel. Being extremely self-critical, the rides can be excruciating. “What could I have done differently, better? Which songs didn’t fit or work? Should I have played other selections, or done the ones I did play in a different order? What could I have said more clearly? What did I fail to say?” There is always plenty of imperfection to mull over.
Last night, before a hometown audience of which I knew probably half of the people personally, I played for a ‘secular,’ black-tie gathering at the annual awards ceremony of a historical society. The song set that Dewayne Creswell (keyboardist) and I did together included a new song (written for the occasion), Springtime in Georgia, Shoulder to shoulder, Hurricane of ’96 (there were tornadoes here last week), Someone’s Been Here, a new song about a turtle crossing the interstate, Ode to the Rusty Strings, and A thousand Forests.
At the end of the evening, an acquaintance who had heard me before, and who, like most of the audience, knows of my belonging to Christ, approached me with the words, “I missed Jesus tonight,” and then, after mild compliments, told me she was disappointed with the evening, stemming from the fact that I had failed to speak of my faith or mention Jesus by name. She had expected me to do so, perhaps deeply wanted it, given that I was before a more worldly-minded group that might have been challenged by unapologetic reference to Christ. I thanked her, sincerely so, for her honesty and for the challenge that her words lay before me. It’s not a new one, but, especially when i am hired to be ‘entertainment’ and to do a ‘fun’ program, is one which makes me ask about the particular calling that I think I’m called to as a singer/songwriter. My omission last night to speak of my personal faith was not calculated, fear-driven or premeditated. I tried to do my work with integrity, true to the request of the people who hired me and operated n the premise that the credibility of any Christian’s witness is greatly enhanced when he or she has a reputation for doing his or her work with excellence in the marketplace.
But, on the drive home last night, the words “I missed Jesus tonight” still very much in mind, my thoughts began with a question: did I somehow disown or dishonor Christ tonight? Did I fail to “make the most of every opportunity”? Was I so intent on my ‘occupation’ that I forsook my ‘preoccupation’?
I’d like to tell you that I reached a peaceful answer to those questions and was able, in my mind, to offer a full and satisfactory response to the woman who shared her disappointment with me. Truth is, I went to bed uneasy, and awoke to the same conversation playing in my mind this morning. While there was nothing to regret about what I had sung or said (other than the usual room for improvement), the question lingers about whether or not I said all I could or should have. I would like to think that the songs and the manner in which Dewayne and I served them up had something of the ‘aroma’ of grace about them, and that things said and sung contained truth which “provoked Godward thought.” But still, self-critical soul that I am, I’m still uneasy.
Were the woman’s words of critique those of God, to chasten, or were they those of the enemy, to accuse and discourage? For me, sometimes it’s hard to know.
I remember talking to a friend last year, a speaker/author, who had decided to decline future invitations to address secular or corporate groups unless it was understood that the gospel would be open and obvious, front and center to his comments. Previous attempts to be a “motivational’ or ‘inspirational’ speaker left him, as he put it, “feeling like a traitor.” i know what he means and deeply respect his decision. And yet, while I don’t know that “called” is the appropriate word, I feel drawn, if ill at ease, to the places and occasions where the jargon of faith is unwelcome and out of place; and I’m thankful for opportunities to be there, behind enemy lines, a subversive of sorts, subtly inviting people to a Life which, hinted at in small measure through the songs, might be fully experienced as God pursues them at other times, through other means, in other places. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you belong to the small band of angels which has made it possible for me to do this work I do, and you probably understand, from your own experience, the tension of integrating the ‘concrete’ world of marketplace, classroom, culture with the ‘spiritual’ world of eternity, truth, reality.
Metaphor, of the sort I try to utilize in the songs I write, is one way to create ‘dots’ that, by God’s grace, others might connect to see, understand and believe the Gospel. My guess is that the dots that lead any of us to Christ are as varied as the moments of our everyday lives, and the Christian wishing to help others find their way home, might use any number of materials in making grace visible – hospitality, written words, parenthood, deeds of charity, friendship, creativity – to the end that, when the Gospel of Jesus is more fully explained to them, either in a sermon, a reading, or some treasured conversation, it resonates with familiarity.
I love the name of Jesus, of Christ, and I routinely choose to use it rather than “God “ or “Lord” in conversation for the power, beauty, clarity, and specificity that it possesses. I love the name because, imperfectly but unavoidably at this point in my life, and only because of God’s grace, I love Christ, with the constant prayer that such love would deepen and grow. The possibility that I might have disowned Him last night or any other time concerns me greatly and is proof perhaps of how far from perfect my love for Christ really is. But even as I ask God to forgive and correct that malady, I rest in and am thankful for His love, and i recall Paul’s petition for “power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” for me.
Do you ever have conversations with yourself like this, or is it just me? A friend suggests that I need to heed “the law of lighten up,” but ‘tis easier said than done.
That said, the conversation with myself continues, and I’m glad for it. Like many of them, I hope that this one, too, might cause discomfort that leads to growth. It is good, I think, for each of us to revisit and articulate an understanding of our “work.” The womans’ words last night forced me, once again, to think through what I do and why. “(M)y life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love.” (Acts 20:24) … I am, truly, thankful for the woman’s words. They were good for me.
On a different note altogether …
A few weeks ago, in a scenario of “one kid’s jawbone meets another kid’s kneebone on the trampoline,” my nephew Andrew (the jawbone part of the equation) suffered a break that resulted in having his mouth wired shut. That’s tough for an 8 year old. One of my nieces shared with me that, shortly after the incident, when Andrew’s diet was limited to liquids through a straw, he and she were at a fast food restaurant. He was unable to eat French fries but took a couple, wrapped them in a napkin, ‘smushed’ them, and held them under his nose while the others ate. The scent, it seems, was as close as he could get to the reality of tasting, and would have to offer some satisfaction until he could open his mouth again. … There’s a sermon in there somewhere.
I’ve probably shared in a previous letter just how much I enjoy and treasure National Geographic magazine. If you have the February 2007 issue, there is an intriguing story about the mangrove tree. On pages 140-141, there is a picture. It is a brilliant illustration which I would title “church” if it were mine to name.
I took a walk a couple of weeks ago with Gary, my brother. Here are some shots of what you see when you walk round Harris County acreage.
Plate’s very full these days, but life is good. Hope you’re well.