Handles

I had a great cup of coffee this morning with Adam Nelson.  He’s one of our worship leaders.  Senior at hope, great musician, and wonderful person.  One of the things we talked about was frustration he has felt in the past over certain songs that he’s needed to lead at various worship gatherings.  Not necessarily at Embody.  I understand his frustration.  Some Christian songs can be trite or shallow or not overly creative and lacking in musicality.  Then there are the songs that don’t really click with me…some old and some new.  Personal preference, right?

Two stories for you: one mine and one second-hand.  Second-hand first.  Seminary professor recalled his experience as a seminary student in a class with a cynical professor (Not WTS, by the way).  The professor was talking about the church’s regular obsession with “Just Jesus And Me” type of theology.  You know the type – where there’s no thought to a full community of believers.  It’s easy to fall into, and can be quite comforting at times.  Anyway, the professor was making fun of the song “I Come To The Garden Alone” and singing it in a mocking nasal voice.  Kind of mean, I think, but…anyway.

After the class a young female student approached him with the power of righteous anger in her voice and eyes.  “Don’t you ever make fun of that song again, professor.  When I was a girl I would go into my back yard and sing that song every night after my father molested me.  It was all I had to hang on to, and don’t you ever make fun of it again.”

Another story: mine from last Sunday.  I was pretty excited because we were going to sing a song that Alex just loves.  He listens to the CD every night as he goes to sleep and sings the song over and over.  I hear him humming it or singing it at the oddest, most random times.  I told him we would be playing it on Sunday and he was excited.  As we ran through it in rehearsal I looked to him at his new drum expecting to see a big smile.  He was shaking his head and frowning.  After we made eye contact he left in the middle of the song to talk with me.

“The song isn’t right, dad.  It’s all different.”  He’s on the verge of crying.  I can see this is VERY serious for him, and so…it is for me, too right now.  I say, “What’s wrong with it?”  “Everything!” he says emphatically.  “Give me something specific, Alex, and maybe we can fix it.”  “Everything, dad.”  “Can you pinpoint something for me?”  I’m trying not to smile because this is the most important thing in his world right now and I don’t want to minimize it or trivialize it.  “Think of the whole song…and that’s what’s wrong with it, dad.”

Eventually we pointed out three things that were different between what he listened to every night and what we were offering up that particular morning. 1. The instruments sounded different. (I gently explain that the CD was produced in a studio with more and different instruments)  2. The melody changed in one spot. (our worship leader explains she had to change that because his CD is with a boy singing and she can’t hit those notes, so had to change it a little)  3. The song starts differently…more quietly.  I’m so relieved, because here is thing we can change.  “Can we change that, Christina?” I ask.  “Of course, that’s a great suggestion.”

Alex isn’t into Sunday School, and doesn’t jive with sermons so much yet, but the music…the music is his connection to Christ right now.  It’s his handle on the faith.  And he takes it very seriously.

The young seminary student had a horrific upbringing with heinous crimes against her, but one song (no matter the theology) was her connection to God.  It was her one handle on the faith.  And she took it very seriously.

I think it’s only Christian to allow everybody to have their handles and not force our handles upon them.  To give space for someone who needs a certain style or song or organ or guitar.  Who do we think we are if we are going to force someone to hold on to faith with handles other than their own?  Jesus reaches out to each of us as individuals…all together.  Sometimes we come to the garden alone, and other times we enter that holy space holding hands with each other.  Each at our own place and with our own needs.

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