When I moved to America I saw myself as a singer-songwriter/bluesy guitar player. My songs were about life…. some were about brokenness, others had my slant on the gospel and some were inspirational (hymns). I came here to play clubs and theaters etc to share my blend of “peace and goodwill to all”….. but when Broken Records folded I was vacuumed into another label and placed in a box…. labeled worship….. and though this form of expression has played an important role in my life, I found this recording industry experience quite suffocating.
Of course I have always been the smart ass at the back of the class room throwing jibes and asking rhetorical questions and it wasn’t long before I landed in various forms of hot water (and or quick sand).
When you chain up a dog….. have you noticed that most of it’s energy is used on trying to escape?
I guess I was that dog!
And, I was none too silent about it…… (…. oh how often I’d hear wisdom calling out…. “Chris….. don’t say it?”……”keep your thoughts to yourself”…… “shut the #$%^ up!”……. ……. but me….. listen?)
My bands have always consisted of musicians who ‘get me’…. rather than people who believe what I believe. I would rather have someone working alongside of me that shares an interest in exploring the unknown…. or following the yellow brick road no matter where it leads…. than people who profess the same core beliefs.
And, I like to include people in my life….. you know…. for better or worse…… If this is real….. then you should be able to sense it too.
My friend Brian Davenport says it best (and you have to put on a Texan accent to get it right).
“If they can’t see it, they can’t buy it”.
And so….. though I was the flavor of the month there for a while (in the gospel-worship scene) it was not long before word got out about some of my ‘heathen’ band members….. and soon I was black listed by most of the agents etc…. which in the end was wonderful…. because I could go ‘into all the world’….. bars, clubs etc….. and escape the claustrophobia and exclusivity of the christian music scene (phew!).
If you read the previous blog, I was leaving Robbo’s house and heading back to the conference….. where…. in several hours I was due to perform a concert.
So now Robbo, his 4 year old son and me are driving along in this old truck and I say…. “So are you ready to sing and play a little blues harp tonight Robbo?”
Robbo…. “Well I was thinking it’s getting late and I should be getting this young fella into bed”.
Robbo “… and also I am not really a Church person and it would be weird for everyone if I came in”
Robbo “….. and hey I don’t think God would approve of me singing with you at this ministers conference…. do you?”
“Look Robbo I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do but it would mean a lot to me if you could come and join me…. I mean the band isn’t too good…… and I could really do with some help”
I wasn’t trying to trick him….. he was my friend…. but I had a sneaky suspicion that he really did want to come and check this new ‘priest‘ thing out in my life.
So we are driving along, we are few miles away from the Church when Robbo says…… very sheepishly…. “I’ve been praying to God lately“
“You have? What do you say to him?”
“Well it’s not a very good prayer and so I don’t think he really listens…. But I say it to him all the time“
“Well what do you say?”
“Ah….. it sounds stupid ……but I just say Help me Jesus….. Hep me Jesus….. Help me Jesus”
Smiling, I told Robbo that…… in my opinion…… this was quite possibly God’s favorite kind of prayer.”
Robbo…. “Really?……. are you sure”
“Hey I’m a priest aren’t I”…… and we both laughed.
Now the ministers conference was…… shall we say…… hmmmmm conservative?….. and could easily have passed as a convention for life insurance salesmen.
People had traveled far and wide to attend and though they had assured me it was to be casual dress ……. it looked to me that everyone was in their Sunday best…. All except me of course. Well actually I was in my my Sunday best it’s just that my idea of dressing for Church is…… well…… casual…… and so to make an extra special effort I may don a clean ironed pair of Jeans….. and maybe….. if I am feeling pressured….. a collared shirt.
Fortunately much grace was given me…. I was after all a musician…. But how come all the other musicians were wearing suits? This is surely against the union code of dress for any musician…. Except for weddings and funerals and maybe if you’re playing in a Big band in Vegas.
Anyway I say all this, because if people had a hard time with my appearance, then they had yet to observe Robbo in all his messy, post-hippie, aging rock-star splendor.
So now we drive up to the back of the Church and the three of us walk into the stage area. The leader of the conference comes over and tries not to look awkwardly at Robbo.
He pulls me aside and says ‘….. ahh (with a hint of fear)…. who is that‘…. “Oh this is a friend of mine and he will be playing and singing with me during tonights concert.”
I know what the minister is thinking…. “I don’t just let anyone on my stage……. and look at him…. his jeans have holes in them….. and he smells of smoke…. and….. and…. ”.
The minister then shakes his head and says….. “never mind…….. ahhh…… do what you have to do…. I just don’t want to know about it.“
This sounded like a yes to me!
And what am I about to do?
Well…. I am including someone in my life…… and letting him experience a little of what I hold to be precious.
And….. I am making a decision to love Robbo, and not make a rule that says “only the sanctified, the clean, the well behaved, the non smoker etc can stand on this platform and worship“.
The concert goes okay…. Actually…. it was (bloody) hard work. The musicians, dressed in their nice suits were a mite timid. I gave Robbo a few blues harp solos which he fumbled badly. I could tell he was nervous….. probably hoping that Scotty would beam him up and take him home for a nice cold beer…… or a joint.
I finished the set with one of my gospel songs “Wash my Sins Away“ I led the people in the refrain singing ‘let it wash, let it wash, let it wash my sins away, for just one drop, one precious drop will wash my sins away’.
During this ‘sing-along’ the leader of the conference came up on stage, took my microphone and began to build a prayer upon the chorus. He then spoke to the audience about confessing sins and asked for ministers to come forward for prayer….for any minister who wanted to confess sins and be unburdened etc.
He then asked for the band to continue singing the song while he and others prayed for the ministers.
Well…… the minister had taken my microphone…… and the only other microphone on stage at that time was Robbo’s.
Without skipping a beat Robbo, the professional just started singing the song and people started following him. I couldn’t believe it. He was actually leading them in worship….. all the ministers…. Thousands of ministers in fact…. were following his leading and singing the song as a prayer.
Now it was my turn to shake my head….. and smile….. and then laugh.
If the ministers had known who Robbo was they would never have listened…..or followed along….. let alone invite him onto the Church platform.
But ignorance is bliss.
And truth….. no matter who says (or sings it) is still truth.
And Robbo….. well…. he was just doing what came natural to him. He was a singer after all…. and though the platform was a tad foreign to him….. something made him feel comfortable enough to be himself….. and ….. he was doing what he was actually born to do.
I like God’s sense of humor….. I like that “unless you come to the Father as a child you’ll never understand the kingdom of God”.
And I think God may find it refreshing to hear simple honest prayers like “Help me Jesus, Help me Jesus, Help me Jesus”.
Maybe I’ll make another T-Shirt.