THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD WILL GROW STRANGELY DIM
I feel like a dinosaur, and I am not even that old.
I do not follow Contemporary Christian Music these days. I do not want to. I am not a musical snob, but I must admit to being a little bit “old school.” I was raised in church -- Southern Baptist (back before the Great Divide in the late 70s [when they were much more fun]) -- and like scores of other teenage boys with cars, I fell in love with rock and roll music. When I was a junior in high school, I began to feel spiritually adrift, so I returned to the church with the best of intentions. I guess the shouts of evangelists convinced me that my rock and roll music was, at most, of the Devil, and, at least, keeping my eyes from the Prize. I did not throw away all of my carefully collected cassettes; I “stored” them.
I do not know which Contemporary Christian Music artist or band caught my ear first. It was like a floodgate of glorious sound and inspired lyrics. Andre Crouch & the Disciples, Love Song, Mustard Seed Faith, Honeytree, Paul Clark, Randy Matthews, Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Keith Green, Barry McGuire . . . and my true musical salvation: Larry Norman. He was the father of CCM, and he represented the musical dichotomy that struggled in my soul. In the mid-70s it was hard to find Larry Norman’s LPs and cassettes. Regular music stores found him too “religious.” Bible bookstores found his long hair and penchant for entire songs that favored personal pronouns over the names “Jesus” and “God” worthy of commercial censure. Norman became my hero: a Christian with his head in the clouds and his feet on the street.
So, now I guess I am a curmudgeon. I do not go to church much anymore; I do not recognize it anymore. We used to dress up a bit for the Lord. We sang hymns that stood the test of time. We knew how to recite the books of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, without having to “sing” them. We could find even the most obscure Bible verses within seconds of the preacher admonishing, “Please turn in your Bibles to . . .” (and in the lovely, lyrical standard of the time: The King James Version). We did not need PowerPoint presentations to hold our interest, and though Baptists loved food, we would not even think of eating or drinking in the sanctuary or in the vestibule. Our high school football teams could not envision opening a home game by running through and ripping to shreds banners emblazoned with the Word of God . . . the very printed words people died preserving . . . the very words that ancient scribes would painstakingly reproduce, and, when they came to the name of God, they would completely bathe, put on clean raiment, and cut a new quill pen.
I feel like a dinosaur, and I am not even that old.
So, I was recently asked to play bass guitar at the wedding of a former student. I did not know the rest of the church “house band,” but, for whatever reason, they were in need of a bassist. It was the oddest sensation being in this little old Baptist church that reminded me of so many such churches in my past. The keyboardist played sweet old recognizable hymns in the half hour prior to the wedding. The “house band” (including Yours Truly) played the seating-of-the-family music, the here-comes-the-bride music, the Unity Candle music, and the Happy Couple-exiting-the-sanctuary music: rocking variations on Pachelbel’s “Canon.” This was at the request of the Happy Couple, and, as one of the guitarists explained, was patterned after a version of “Canon” recorded by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on, of all things, a Christmas album (“Christmas Canon Rock”). This Old Man was rocking out to a classical piece he loves, and, he was made to understand, the greater part of those twentysomethings present thought it was a Christmas song, literally, in July.
The wedding was performed by the church’s youth pastor, a dear friend of the Happy Couple. The senior pastor of the church played dazzling, fuzzed-out lead guitar in the/our “house band,”and I was impressed with this middle-aged man. We had a chance to chat before the wedding, and our conversation really caught fire as we shared a mutual love for the aforementioned Jesus music of the 70s. We ended our animated talk with me promising to burn CD copies of some of my CCM heroes that he, too, found so formative.
I usually feel like such an Outsider at these events. My life is so different from 99.9 percent of those present at the wedding, not the least being my broad and encompassing view of God and spirituality. I take no issue with their beliefs, though I’m sure they’d say a prayer or two if they knew the Real Me. That’s okay, too. I need all the prayers I can get. It’s like Morrie Schwartz explained to author Mitch Albom in the inspirational classic Tuesdays with Morrie. Morrie, in his seventies, did not envy the young because, as he so delightfully explained, he’d already had his time as a twenty-year-old, a thirty-year-old, and beyond. Morrie was all of those ages because he’d been there. I understand the genuine and sincere qualities of those who practice religion that is somewhat narrower than mine. I’ve been there. I never gave it up. I just opened up my view of the Infinite, and I’m sure my head still cannot contain what It really Is.
So, if you see me in your Christian church sometime, do not be disturbed if I skip the coffee and doughnuts in the Lord’s House. I will have my KJV with me, though I also find the RSV and NIV excellent, as well. I will not be singing along to some swaying “praise song”which I do not recognize, but I will listen intently, all the while hoping against hope that I will at least hear “Just As I Am” or “I Surrender All” during the alter call.
And I will be praying for you, too.