Two additional thoughts about a still speaking God...
For Sunday's message on hospitality (part two of a four part series on becoming a people of deeper humility, hospitality and hope) our church band is going to reprise our take on The Band's tune: The Weight. We always close our Thanksgiving Eve shows with it both because it is so much fun to sing, AND, because it intuitively speaks about what it feels like without a place "to rest your head and take a load off..." Part of my worship notes include the following:
One of the songs we always sing at this Thanksgiving Eve gig is a rambling, shaggy dog country tune called “The Weight.” And before I give you the concluding biblical references that give shape and form to a transformational type of hospitality, I want sing this song for you and ask you to join in on the chorus. And as my mates are getting into place, let me share with you a little secret about the way hospitality can take place and be nourished within and beyond the music:
First of all, it is one of my deepest commitments that we find a way to celebrate and honor everyone’s gifts. Not everybody has the same skill level so never want to dumb the aesthetics of a song down to the lowest common denominator. At the same time we are a faith community that offers an alternative way of living to our society that all too often only rewards the so-called stars and professionals. As the scriptures say: we have another world in view – but to see it and embrace it takes a whole lot of time – and trust – and a ton of listening. Because, you see, sometimes a person’s gift is hidden under a bushel basket and their light does NOT shine out like a city on a hill. So my job – and somebody has to do it because this doesn’t happen automatically – my job is find ways to get rid of that bushel basket and let that inner light shine.
Second, whatever song we sing or play as a group needs to embody cooperation – no prima donnas need apply for this gig – because what I’m looking for is a way to honor both our individuality and our commitment to community. Individuals, therefore, are selected to sing certain verses where they get a chance to share their unique and holy personalities through the song and then practice a little holy humility too by creating harmonies within the chorus. And if you’re paying attention, you can begin to see that there is a sacred method to my madness – so beware that I’m going to ask you about it after this song is done.
And third, please notice how this wild and woolly secular song reinforces a biblical understanding of hospitality. In a variety of ways, this song tells the story of a lonely stranger who arrives in Nazareth – of all places – and he’s looking for a place to rest after a long journey. Sadly, nobody is willing or able to help him “take a load off and lay down his heavy weight” except, of course, someone called Miss Annie: she’s the only one who cares enough to go out of her way to help the stranger. Each verse amplifies this alienation and loneliness of the stranger in every wacky ways. Now people in the musical counter culture have been singing this song for years – it is an ironic albeit funny commentary on loneliness and our need for hospitality – and that’s one of the main reasons why I want to sing it in the Sanctuary every year at the close of our show. By bringing it into church we create the possibility that those who might have given up on God – or been wounded by the church – might actually see that WE share their worries about the world we live in and also speak their same language.
Over the past few days, however, two additional insights have popped up that I would love to include on Sunday, but will likely have to wait until next week's message. They include the following:
+ First, Frederick Buechner makes the observation that God's still speaking voice/word is always available to us - it is always coming to us - and it is always masked or obscure.Indeed, the word of the Lord is incarnated within our ordinary lives.
Because the word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word—a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see—the chances are we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling. In a sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.
In my work with music/popular culture and the word of the Lord this insight is crucial: it reminds us that God's voice is present in many realities, but we are so unused to listening for it that without both practice and guidance we are likely to miss it entirely.
+ Second, from the writing of Dorothy Bass in A People's History of Christianity she notes that the battle that Ireaneus of Lyons took on with the Gnostics' was not about protecting his own turf - as so many shallow critics suggest - but rather about making certain that both salvation and grace never became the property of the elite. The blessings of Christianity, you see, are always radically democratic - they are available to everyone - and Bass underscores this point in her description of the counter-cultural nature of the Church calendar. No one controls it, no one owns it and everyone - rich, poor, male, female, gay, straight or transgendered, young or old - can live into the liturgical seasons fully without permission or assistance from any elite.
In my work with listening for the voice of God in popular culture, I would suggest the same insight applies: in popular culture, the songs and visions are available freely and widely - they are not restricted to the concert hall or rarefied museums. And if a seeker is listening, then God's radical and all healing grace becomes available in ways that are transformative and beautiful.
So, in the interest of time and affection, I will leave these insights out this week but seek to incorporate them next week. Now it is on the grocery store!