For the Love of Music

As you probably know if you’ve listened to my sermons, I love music. I often have to “pull back the reigns” when writing my sermons to keep from making umpteen musical references that I find resonating with the text. I was just telling Neva King this morning (she is in the hospital, so keep her in your prayers) that our wonderful music ministry is one way that I can “plug in” and be in worship myself as the one leading us through worship. She and I were talking about Easter Sunday, and how she knew that it is difficult for the minister to “let go” of all the “management” of the service and be present in worship on “big days” like that. It is true, but I told her I had always found myself being “present” as a worshipper along with the congregation, in large part because I can be transported by the music of our choir, handbells, and organ. We truly have a gift in Dan and Kathy Call and the choir and handbells that practice so diligently and with such a spirit of fun and meaning. What they have in store for us during Holy Week is always a highlight of the Christian year.
Popular music is also a way I find sacred meaning. The experience of listening to and enjoying music often helps me focus in on what I’m trying to say. When I write, I often listen to music without words, such as the Pandora station I’ve built around Django Reinhart “gypsy jazz guitar” I’m listening to as I write this article. If you drop by my office, I likely have my Pandora station on Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or roots reggae, because I find it nice to work to. Sometimes at home, we like spinning records while we make dinner. I enjoy exposing the kids to different kinds of music, and learning what they like about things I like. If I have to, I’ll turn the radio to the pop station for the girls and Madden, but we can usually agree on the Hip Hop Channel or classic rock. As you see, my music tastes are varied. I enjoy different things about different things. A couple weeks ago when Carole Minter preached for me, I was down in Houston with Myranda and my sister and brother in law and 80,000 other people listening to Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and George Strait at the Houston Rodeo. It was a great concert, and George gave it his all, coming back out for an encore including 4 songs! I told Myranda that I often hear the congregation seeming to want an encore when I’m wrapping up my sermon, so I pack another mini-sermon into the joys and concerns or benediction. 😀 Just kidding!
I just listened to a report on NPR that is part of a series they’re doing called “American Anthem: Music that Celebrates, Unites, and Challenges” that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” endures as a classic “American anthem” even though it is often misunderstood as being a “Rah-rah USA” song when it is actually a protest song, telling the story of a Vietnam veteran who feels ignored and rejected by his society. I remember having this realization during a Bruce Springsteen concert back in the 90s when he played “Born in the USA” solo on an acoustic guitar without the refrain. It was a new insight that made the song even more powerful for me.
Music can be misunderstood, and sometimes when musical artists make their opinions known about social and political matters, they might lose fans who want them to just “shut up and sing.” An acquaintance of mine from Hendrix, where I went to undergraduate school, recently wrote about this experience. He’s a well known country/folk/Americana artist named Hayes Carll, and wrote “If I May be as so Bold” for nodepression.com, the journal for roots music. In that essay, he says,
“We had an agreement, a part of my audience and I. We never exactly spelled it out, but now I can see the terms. I would play music, make people laugh, cry, and dance, but be vague enough in my songwriting and in my persona to allow them to overlook any-thing that didn’t jive with who they wanted me to be. In exchange, they would buy tickets to my shows and use my songs in the sound-track to their lives. Our relationship would be entertainer and con-sumer rather than artist and audience. I would only present palata-ble parts of myself to the world and I was mostly okay with that. Until I wasn’t. When I started to speak my mind about certain issues, some of that part of my audience with which I had an agreement decided to let me know that I had broken it. That forced me to look at how we had made it and whether or not I wanted to keep it….
When anyone gives their opinion they are making themselves a tar-get. But I’ve decided I would rather be criticized for the things I be-lieve in than be embraced for the things I don’t. To have the strength of character to speak my mind when I feel it is needed and to not live in fear of the repercussions of that:
That’s my new agreement.”
Do we “make this agreement” with people in our social spheres? Of course we do, but sometimes we need to be encour-aged to speak up, especially when injustice or harm is present. John Wesley instructs us to “Do no harm, Do Good, and attend upon the ordinances of God.” As the Ben Franklin quote that is the signature on my email says, “As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.” Sometimes, harm is done not by what we say, but what we leave unsaid. Martin Luther King would later say, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our ene-mies, but the silence of our friends.” We must be willing to “always be ready to give account for the hope that is within us” as Peter instructs the church. (1 Peter 3:15) I want to better prepare you for giving account of the hopeful message I hope we radiate at UUMC based on our scriptural and faith-based convictions. The world needs to hear the kind of hope and grace and love that is evident in our church—let’s make it more apparent. Let’s turn up the volume! Let’s make the message clear and unconfused!