I was in Nashville with colleagues, and a few of us had made our way to the Bluebird Cafe, which might be called the mother church for country music songwriters. A quartet of men and women sang and played guitar for about 80 people from 9 p.m. to around 11. The music was beautiful, and I wandered out of the café with the honest testimonies of human nature and destiny stirring within me.
When Arcade Fire won a Grammy for album of the year, Win Butler came to the podium clinging to his identity as one of
the band geeks. "We're gonna go play another song because we like
music"—just in case anyone had forgotten about the music after Lady Gaga emerged from an egg,
Katy Perry swung from the ceiling and Gwyneth Paltrow danced on a piano.
It's a truism that Christianity lives and breathes as much
(or more) through music as through preaching or teaching, to say nothing of
dense theological texts--so Christian preachers and teachers should be on the
lookout for ways to incorporate the great hymns of the tradition into our
sermons, lessons and other theological work.
As a church musician, I've been known to program what I thought were familiar Charles Wesley hymns, only to find my non-Methodist song leaders tongue-tied by the ambitious melodies and all-doctrine-all-the-time words. When I have a week off and visit an Episcopal church, the Hymnal 1982's Arthur Sullivan tunes make my mind wander to operetta.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.