Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just Don't Mess Up The Song...

Question: Why do some people become Christ followers, and why do some people reject Christ? Why do some people "take to God" and faith, and religion, and why are some people repulsed by it?

The year before I went to college, and the summer after I graduated from High School, I got a job as a piano bar player in a drinking house in Kolding, Denmark. I know that sounds like the introduction of a long winded joke, but it's true. So, my job was to play piano songs in a bar in Denmark. They loved that I was an American, and they loved that I could play the piano (sort of), and croon through any number of their favorite American piano ballads. That summer I played "Piano Man" by Billy Joel, I don't know how many times. I played "American Pie" by Don Mcurdie (sp?) more times than I can count. I played Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" and Jerry Lee Luis's "Great Balls of Fire." Those songs payed for my foreign exchange year in Denmark and they marked the favorite moments of my youth - like a series of parentheses in the long sentences of my upbringing.

One night a woman slinked up to the piano where I was playing, and she murmured, in broken English/Danish, "Young man...can you please play the song...'I've Been Walkin in Memphis' by Marc Cohen?" "Sure I can," I said, as I scooted myself further into the bench and that piano piece, like a winter coat being slipped into by an old man. "No," she said "I don't want you to just play that song, I need it to be played perfectly. I need you to play it without mistakes. I just love that song. If you are going to play my favorite song, I need you to play it like it was meant to be played. Just don't mess up the song!!!" After she said this, I wasn't so sure that I could play the song, at least not the way it was meant to be played. Now I was becoming a little more nervous. "I suppose I can play it that well." "No," she said, plaintively, "It can't just be a song that you play well - it has to be perfect! It has to be just like the song that I can hear in my head." In the end, I decided not to play the woman's song, which was just as well, since she didn't tip me that well anyway.

I have been thinking about that moment at the piano bar in Denmark, and how it relates to the acceptance of faith or the rejection of it. I have been pondering how that moment reminds me of why some people want "something" to do with religion, and why others want nothing to do with it at all.

Here is my theory: All of us have a song in our heads about God. It is a song about how we want God to be presented to us. All of us have a tune in our hearts about how we want to be loved by Jesus, or how we want to understand the depth of understanding about the grace of God, or about how perfect God is. All of us have it. The apostle Paul would call that the, "law written on our hearts." And, like that woman who met me in the Danish bar, all of us, like that woman in Denmark, approach our churches, our pastors, our teachers, our instructors of the Bible, and we want them to play the song that perfectly. We already know the song in our hearts. We sing it to ourselves when we are thinking about higher things - and we want it to be played perfectly. And, like that woman, we would rather not have the song played at all than to have it played poorly. We would, literally, rather not hear music that to hear bad music.

Many people in life have heard the music of God played badly. They have been to church when their heart was aching, and they heard a pastor prattle on about the judgment of God. They have understood the depth of logic of God intuitively and have then heard a teacher offer a pithy platitude like, "Just believe," and they have winced. They have wanted to hear a clear song about the justice of God, and they have instead heard a poorly composed, cacophonically orchestrated tune about the legalism of God. And so, like that woman, they have slipped away from the piano, with their song unsung and un-played. They would rather not have the song played at all than to have it played badly. Just don't mess up the song.

So, that's my theory about why some people don't go to church, or they think they don't like God, or they reject faith, or they don't have time for "organized religion." When they needed to have the song played perfectly, at a particular moment in their lives - a moment of pain and of loss, someone, unwittingly, "messed up the song."

All for Now,

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