Berkshires - said to me, "You know, man, you are a lot smarter than you look... and don't get me wrong, I mean that as a compliment." Truth be told, my first reaction was not charitable, but I have learned (mostly) not to go with my first reaction. Not only do I never know the whole story, but usually if I sit and wait quietly something better develops. And this conversation was no exception.
"Let me explain," he continued. "When people first see you with your cowboy boots, vests and messy hair it is easy for them to dismiss you as a slacker. But you have a keen and well-trained theological mind. What's more, you've been experimenting with something most in our churches don't get; namely that music communicates sacred truth to contemporary people far better than our linear, theological arguments. In a culture that is saturated with words - and exhausted by them, too - you are communicating God's truths through the experience of music." Like one of my former moderators said in complete candor to the congregation, "You know, after working with him for a while I can tell you: he's not just another pretty face!"
Ok, so it is good to be humbled in pursuit of grace, yes? And that brings me to this weekend's concert. It was once our Thanksgiving Eve American Music Festival, but we got socked by a blizzard and had to cancel. Now it is the "Fighting Off the Winter Cold" benefit concert at 3 pm on Sunday, January 11.
This particular concert has taken on a new energy for me - it has a purpose beyond simply raising mission dollars for emergency fuel assistance in our region during the winter - that has at least these components:
+ First, this group of musicians feeds my soul. The music we've selected rocks my world.And the way these artists groove together in harmony and verve is a little taste of heaven for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Everybody checks their egos at the door, working to create beautiful music in a cooperative and supportive way. No cutting one another allowed. No passive aggressive tricks on the bandstand or stomping all over another's solo either: for a few hours, this concert allows us to bring our best selves to the music and help one another shine. It is one of the ways I go to church as a pastor. + Second, we get to show the wider community how much fun you can have in church if you are grounded in joy. I often say to the crowd, "You know we do this EVERY Sunday at 10:30 am and you are all welcome to join us." But that's said only half joking because we DO have fun every Sunday - not always with a 17 piece rock/folk/soul/jazz band - but with our own artists we shake it up regularly. Even in staid old New England, nobody goes to church anymore out of obligation, habit or guilt. Nobody. And most people don't believe church can be a place of safety, joy and insight.
I met a man today at lunch who asked me how I knew the person I was visiting. "Oh I am the pastor at his church." "Oh bullshit," he said in complete seriousness. I guess he couldn't believe that my pretty face and shaggy hair were allowed in ministry! So I gave him my card and said, "Check it out at 3 pm this Sunday." He smiled like this was the wildest thing he'd ever heard. I said something similar to another person exploring our congregation. "No pressure, but you might discover something really satisfying as we do Beck, Warren Zevon alongside Sam Smith's "Stay with Me" and Spyro Gyra's "Shaker Song."
+ And third, some of our most talented regional musicians have a chance to play with some of our really talented youth musicians at these gigs. Two young people in particular are monster performers with great potential in front of them. To give them a chance to be backed up by top notch pros is magic - where everyone benefits. I've watched these two young people mature and grow in musicality and commitment over the past 7 years and it is thrilling. And if what the old timers tell me is true - and I believe it is - playing with these young artists is a little bit of grace for them in a world that often looks hopeless and cruel.
So, if you have the chance - and want to support your neighbors in need - come on up to the house THIS Sunday, January 11 @ 3 pm. For two hours you'll have a ball - it will be the best two hours you've spent in church in probably decades!