Oh happy day...

So epiphanies come all the time and not just in January, right? The other night I started reading Cathleen Falsani's wonderful book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace and I come across these words that hit me upside the head in the introduction:

Why grace? Because some days, it's the only thing we have in common... because it's the oxygen of religious life, or so says a musician friend of mine, who tells me: "Without it, religion will surely suffocate you!" Because so many of us are gasping for air and grasping for God, but fleeing from a kind of religious experience that has little to do with anything sacred or gracious. (Damn, this woman is on to something I think, she really knows how to kick ass and then she writes...)

Because you can't do grace justice with a textbook, theological definition, but you can get closer by describing it with music and film, pictures and stories... and then it all became clear. It was like the scales fell away from my eyes and for the first time in my life I UNDERSTOOD why music has such an incredible and life-giving hold over me and my ministry: I AM BATHED IN GRACE AND THE ONLY WAY I KNOW HOW TO SHARE IT - THE ONLY WAY I KNOW HOW TO GIVE IT AWAY LIKE ONE BEGGAR TELLING ANOTHER WHERE TO FIND BREAD - IS TO SING AND PLAY AND HOPE SOMEBODY ELSE GETS A TASTE OF THIS SWEET FEAST, TOO!

Now, to be fair, I'd been thinking about my call into ministry 40 years ago - and you know that 40 number has a certain energy to it, right? 40 years in the desert, 40 days on the ark, 40 days of fasting in the desert wilderness and all the rest. And this reflection on 40 and my calling took me to another 40 - U2's lament "40" and the kids who turned me on to it during their confirmation - and that connected me to both their confirmation and where I experienced my call into ministry: the Potter's House in Washington, DC.

So I started asking myself, "Isn't it fascinating that I have been playing with arts and music for 40 years - and most of the time my churches just don't really get it (and I guess I haven't really been very good at making it clear why it is so important.) So on and off for 40 years I've wondered why there is such a gap when music is one of the clearest ways that God speaks to me (something I started articulating about 10 years ago.) And now I understand: not only is music the way I hear the voice of God best, it is also ONE OF THE ONLY WAYS I KNOW HOW TO SHARE THE BLESSINGS OF GRACE!

And that's what makes Falsani's insight so important to me: she helped me comprehend that you can only get close to grace through beauty and the arts - doctrine, theology and all that linear stuff that church people obsessive about is a DEAD END when it comes to grace. And the totality of my ministry is about grace! (Ok, ok, I'm a slow learner..)

Well, this started me thinking about what were my first clues to the music that expressed God's grace and I found myself back in the 4th grade in music appreciation class: I was mesmerized by Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" along with the sounds of Gerswhin, Camille Saint-Saens, Ravel and the French Impressionists. Yeah, the Four Seasons were fun but most of pop music after Elvis and Little Richard left me cold - but not this mystical stuff that was filled with passion and humor... man, something was going on.!

In 6th grade I wound up writing a paper about the young Bob Dylan - my dad turned me on to Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Cisco Huston - and before you knew it I was a Dylana-holic. Then the Beatles came along and that was Pentecost for me: they filled my heart, head and soul with such energy and reason for living that I begged and begged until I got a guitar. And, after a false start or two, have been playing it and loving it and praying with it for 45 years. OMG.

Now, Little Steven of Springsteen's band has written about how life changing the Beatles were to him, too, so I know that I am not unique - and that's the point. This music was so democratic - and so energizing in all the right ways - that it continues to have a life of its own bringing people together all over the world. Which caused me to make a list of the songs that have filled me with a sense of God's promise, hope, love, anger, fear, sadness and grace and continue to be lasting.

I came up with these so far and they are just the really important ones not the tunes that were fun but throw aways. I LOVE these songs:

1. Tutti Fruitti - Little Richard
2. Hound Dog - Elvis Presley
3. Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
4. Please, Please Me/Twist and Shout - The Beatles
5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles
6. Oh Happy Day - Edwin Hawkins Singers
7. Freedom /Chain of Fools- Aretha Franklyn
8. Marcie - Joni Mitchell
9. Trouble Comin' Every Day - The Mothers of Invention
10.Everything from Godspell
11.Everyday People - Sly and the Family Stone
12. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds/Dylan
13. Racing in the Street/Badlands - Bruce Springsteen
14. Born in the USA/Dancin' in the Dark/The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
15. Thanksgiving Eve/The Great Storm is Over - Bob Franke
16. Pride/Beautiful Day/When Love Comes to Town/Grace - U2
17. Sunday Street/Cocaine Blues - Dave Von Ronk
18. Candy Man - Mississippi John Hurt
19. Angel - Sarah MacLachlan
20. Try a Little Tenderness - Otis Reading

I can remember sitting in my brother's room in the early winter of 1968: I had claimed a sense of calling into ministry while at an art's center in DC, Dr. King and RFK had been assassinated and the urban riots of America had been heartbreaking. I was terrified about where Vietnam was leading and what I was going to do the closer I got to draft age when my younger brother, Phil, put on this song, "Oh Happy Day" and I just sat there weeping - I still do (I am right now) - because in the middle of all that pain and sorrow and confusion, there was also a word of reassurance. Grace... and it came to me through the music. That's how God get's our attention, I guess, so it is worth taking another listen to that prayer/song again...


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