Dancing in the Kitchen, Songs that Shape My Soul, and Holy Ground
When I made the transition from full-time pastor to full-time, stay-at-home mom, I discovered the best radio station ever. Living in north Georgia, I tuned my dial to 88.1 and the voices of Richard Windham and his colleagues at WUTC, the public radio station out of Chattanooga, TN. While loading the dishwasher in the evening, I could here the great interviews of Fresh Air, but in the mornings and afternoons, while my little guys toddled around the kitchen, I met musicians, storytellers, and theologians whose voices and cadences were strikingly new to me but who sang with themes and melodies that harmonized with all I had read in theology classrooms, sanctuaries, and holy writ. The dry erase board on the side of my fridge included the names and song titles of these new theologians and conversation partners. I wanted to remember exactly who they were and what they had said so that my preacher-husband and I could enjoy it all over again after we got the boys to bed (like that ever really happened – but I never gave up hope). I’m pretty sure the song that started it all was Chris Smither’s “No Love Today.”
In the end no one will sell you what you need. You can’t buy it off the shelf. You’ve got to grow it from the seed.
There were so many days I preached something different but needed to hear just that.
Right behind him was the album Ash Wednesday Blues by Anders Osborne which included both a song entitled “Stoned, Drunk, and Naked” and one called “Kingdom Come.” Together, the two explored sin and forgiveness and all of Salvation History with a gritty jazz groove that let me both dance around the kitchen to the giggles of my boys and exercise my theological muscle all at the same time. The music kept me sane in the witching hours of late afternoon and gave me a whole new way of encountering what it means to be a human being exploring the divine mystery.
Fast-forward about seven years to a new faith community gathering on Sunday nights in a coffee shop. Looking for a fresh way for strangers to get to know one another and come to a new appreciation for wildly divergent languages for faith and connection with God, I recalled those days of dancing in my kitchen to the sounds of emerging young songwriters, the days when I came to embrace a new and growing vocabulary of belief and doubt. For a few weeks between Easter and Pentecost, I invited first our musicians and then others to spend a whole worship service sharing the songs that had shaped their souls. It was a moment to tell others how God had spoken to their spirits and given them hope, encouragement, understanding, and grace. What happened changed our community forever. We heard about riding home from church with the Allman Brothers Band blaring out the car windows and how Lady Gaga proclaimed grace and welcome. We learned about song-leading at youth camps and the witness of Lincoln Brewster in the life of a retired civil servant turned amazing guitar player. Timid young women risked everything to share about their fears, mistakes, and the bigness of God who moves not just in sanctuaries but also in living rooms and on disc golf courses, whose praises are sung not just by choirs but in smoky juke joints too, and whose nature is witnessed both in hymnals and on iTunes – and not only in the Christian music section but also in the screaming metal music that voices the frustrations and pain of tender young men peeking out from behind long bangs. These Sunday nights taught us more about one another and opened spaces of deeper appreciation and connection than any other nights we shared. A series I planned to last just a few weeks spilled over into the summer and became a pattern for sharing we returned to over and over again.
These are the nights I recalled this week as I encountered reflections on the death of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. You can read here and here the two that captured my attention the most. None of this is because I have either been a fan of Bowie’s music or Rickman’s films – but because now I know in a deep and moving way that God’s Spirit has never been confined to church buildings. Human expressions of faith and doubt often come most powerfully outside of the canon of scripture and the bibliographies of theology courses and classrooms. Honest and real testimony need not be decorated with doctrine or elaborated upon with expensive words. I feel tender for the souls who have lost a prophet and guide for the journey.
Now days, when I want to get to know someone, when I want to understand how they understand God in the world, I have a couple of favorite questions. They are:
What songs are on your favorite playlist?
Tell me about your tattoo. What does it represent for you?
These are things people LOVE to talk about.
They aren’t threatening and don’t presuppose a “right” answer.
They invite story and intimacy while speaking powerfully of what a person holds most dear.
They can never be confused with a theological litmus test but instead say, “I want to know what is important to you and I know that when you share it with me, you have given me a gift.”
And I have learned that when I ask these questions, I should prepare to listen to a holy story – maybe even take my shoes off in honor of the sacred ground between us.
If, as the psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” why would God not be in my iPod?