Music...gives wings to the mind, a soul to the universe, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, a life to everything.
There was a long time when I lost faith in the power of the Church. Along the road, I found, or rediscovered, a faith in the power of Jesus, never lost my faith in the power of God, but had pretty much given up on church.
The path that took me away from church was a musical route. As a boy becoming a man in the early seventies my soul was captured by rock and roll. The pop musicians of those days were very spiritual. Their art dealt with soul issues of earth and justice, peace and harmony. They invoked God and Spirit and Jesus unashamedly and mixed it up with a radical anti-establishment, anti-consumer, anti-war lifestyle. Freedom of thought and spirit were paramount. It was world-changing music.
It’s a long story but the music that fed my soul was nowhere to be found in the church that I knew. The church was supposed to be feeding my soul – but it felt like it was just asking to be fed. There was great music in the church - but it rarely fed me. What can I say? How does one account for taste? I left the church for about a decade. But I never stepped off the spiritual path that I was on.
Christians and Christian writers who pursued that radical lifestyle drew me into the Bible. The Bible took me deeper into the power of GOD to change the world. The passion I found for Jesus was a driving rock beat, it had the soul of rhythm and blues, the angry energy of punk, and the hope of folk. For me, if you can’t dance to it, it doesn’t really take me further down the path.
The Church music I knew was full of good words and good tunes. It was reminiscent of where I’d been – soothing and nostalgic. It just didn’t move me any further along.
The winding circular path led me to Divinity School. I excelled in Biblical, theological, ethical, pastoral, political and historical studies. I almost failed Worship. There was no connect for me.
GOD’s power and Christ’s mystery dragged me through school and into a community ministry. I had Sunday’s off. We couldn’t’ find a United Church that didn’t feel like work – that would feed us for the work week ahead. I stopped going to church Sunday mornings.
Carol didn’t give up on church though. She went back to her roots. She started visiting Evangelical churches. She’d left the Evangelical church because of the Patriarchal order of things. She’d found that their emphasis on changing souls into conformists instead of world-changers was too limited. Now however, some things had changed. She found a Baptist church with a woman pastor, very few Baptists, and a vibe that suited us.
When she dragged me along, I had problems with some of the theology – but the drums and guitars fed my soul. I discovered what hundreds of thousands already knew - that a connect between the music that fed me and the message that fed me – did exist. We joined a house church and soon were part of the family. When they asked me to get into the preaching rotation, I had to stop complaining about “their” theology.
Fast forward about fifteen years.
It is Saturday night in Bobcaygeon. The Sunday morning rows of chairs have been pushed aside. Big round tables covered with newsprint, crayons and pipe cleaners invite you into a creative chaos. About forty people have come out to hear the visiting worship band from Grace United in Peterborough.
What’s happening in Bobcaygeon is part of what the United Church is calling the “Emerging Spirit”. Rev. Lyle Horn is a good ten years ahead of the curve. He’s been doing what others are now trying. At Grace it’s not an experiment – it’s part of who they are.
Three guitars, four singers, a pounding pianist, a drummer, a sound tech and a van full of equipment have traveled 70K to bring us the good news. Our sound tech team is stretched and taking notes. We’ve already got the powerpoint thing down. Tonight is a test. Can this United Church in Bobcaygeon rock and roll with Jesus?
Earlier in the week I put out a plea via email “if this is the only time you come to church between now and Easter – come to this.” And they did. There were grandmas and grandkids. There were moms and dads. There were a few teens and a few boomers. There were people who’d only been to funerals and weddings in that building. People cancelled dinner invites to be there. We reached the critical mass. It was happening.
Rev. Lyle strummed and sang and told stories between songs – wisdom and wit in balance. The band was ably led by Tony Mason’s steady chops. Those with the ears to hear enjoyed his subtle sweet guitar solos. Tony leads with his heart and soul – and people join in. A serious young man was the third guitarist. He’d found worthy teachers to sit between.
The four singers were front and centre. They sang their hearts out. The three women wore big, big smiles – don’t ask me about their clothes or ages – their spirits were light and rooted and growing green. They were complemented by a gentleman who would have blended in nicely with a Sunday morning choir – but obviously didn’t give a damn and was there just to sing, sing, sing.
The gal on piano was one of those special musicians who could cross genres. She could keep her playing gowned for Sunday morning, but tonight she was letting it out on the town. And the drummer Ron – drummers never get any respect – Ron was holding down the beat at the other end – adding a splash of cymbal to give colour and shine at just the right moments. Taken for granted mostly – if they’re not there - I miss the drums like fries without ketchup, like tennis without a ball.
But it was the children who led us worshippers. Little Anna started dancing up front right away. She attracted the other little ones. David flopped down on the floor front and centre. The adults listened politely, gently swaying.
The music picked up tempo and Lyle got us up on our feet – clapping and moving. A few people were boogeying, a few were wooden, the rest everywhere in between.
I missed most of what happened in between. The children were starting to race around the sanctuary and for safety’s sake me and the teens took them into the hall with a bag of balloons and let that energy run its course.
At an intermission we broke out cake and coffee in the kitchen. No one had been assigned serving duties. Chaos ruled. Everyone found what they needed. There was noise and laughter. A kitchen party.
By the time the kids had run out of energy and we returned to the sanctuary there was a tangible feeling of freedom in worship happening.
People were moving and clapping and smiling and singing from somewhere down deep. There was a vibe swimming in the air and we were all getting wet.
David found me standing at the back and pulled me up to dance with him and Carol for a song. Not satisfied, he found an old guy who reluctantly – not wanting to turn down a kid with Downs - joined us for the next song. Still not satisfied, for the last song David went and got two more people by the hand and pulled them into the circle. They seemed less reluctant - like all they were looking for was an excuse to jump into the joy.
Sunday morning we were still on a high. Those who wouldn’t miss a Sunday any more than they’d miss a night’s sleep were still all smiles. We’d shared something special – something unique, something that felt good and right and fun and – holy.
I’m pretty sure our musician friends felt pretty good about their trip to Bobcaygeon. We have a saying that gets used in our church quite a bit. “Blessed to be a Blessing.” It describes that feeling when you know that God has used you to bring joy and healing and wonder to someone else. I saw it in the faces of those musicians as they packed up their gear. They knew that not only had they done their job – but something else was in the air. There was more than the sum of their efforts at work. More than the connection between listeners and performers. More than the magic of community that happens when people naturally relax and let themselves be carried into the fun. Healing happened. I could feel the presence of the Spirit in the room. There was joy. And where there’s joy, there’s healing.
A friend told me that he’d discovered that it was okay to be spiritual in church. He’d had all the usual impressions of church as a place where order rules and rules define the experience. He’d thought of church as the place you went to be told how far away from GOD you were. He was surprised to find that it wasn’t even about where you were on the path – just that it was good to be on the path with others.
In the sanctuary, the place where it is supposed to be safe, there are wounds and hurts. The room soaks up all the offences of the people. All the times when people have been scolded and shunned because they stepped out of line. All the times people felt judgment on their backs – judged for being themselves; for expressing sorrow or enthusiasm, for the sin of being childlike.
In the room you can feel a fear of “doing something wrong”. A fear of disturbing the order; that the cup holding the blood of Christ might spill if it gets jiggled. And then there’s blood on the ground. The room get’s stained with those wounds – all four walls, floor and ceiling hold God’s ache at what has happened in His name, in His safe place.
The only antidote is joy. Joy is the overflowing cup of Christ’s blood. Once it starts overflowing, it flows like a fountain. All the fears of spilling it by mistake are washed away because something stronger than fear is at work. Freedom enters in. Freedom comes in the door and is contagious. Not just polite laughter and good neighbour humour. Freedom that works in the muscles and bones and makes you move; makes you want to move, draws you in and lifts you up.
It‘s not just a feeling. It is the presence of GOD. The Sanctuary hums with healing joy. God laughs.