At this point in my preaching journey, I find myself drawing on or being informed by the writings of theologian Howard Thurman, novelist Toni Morrison and poet Langston Hughes, as well as the musical literature known as the spirituals.
In the evangelical subculture of my youth, there were three categories of pop music. There was secular music, the avoidance of which was, as with alcohol, a nonessential of the faith. (My parents’ approach was more tight regulation than outright ban.) There was Christian music, the Nashville-industry pop records that we heard on Christian radio during our school carpool and then saved our allowances up to buy. And then there was worship music, which we sang at church.
Some of us owe a large part of whatever prophetic imagination we have to the creative powers of Bruce Cockburn. For pop-music-loving Bible readers of my generation, chances are he came to us via U2 of the late 1980s.
He was up in the choir loft, tuning his pipes of the old century’s wind-pump organ; I heard taps and bangs on metal, strange half-throated off- notes, near-notes, puffs, sighs and cough-blasts;
and then he was playing—Bach, Buxtehude, Peters— it was a young Jehovah’s making, a bright hands-full soaring over oceans of soul-light, filling the chill of the chapel with a lush of breathing. Now, in my everyday listening,
for the poem,the music, I am Mary before the ash-soft fall of the messenger, I am John after the disappearance beyond the clouds; I listen to the silence beyond the thuck and thudding of a day’s importance, to hear the hum that figures
a countryside of darkness, the sounds of April whispering over into May, the thunder of apple blossoms dropping from the tree; I listen for the tune that my days make in the works of love, in the notes’ approximations to a symphony.