Disclaimer: All dialogue is based on my best recollection and could not possibly be word-for-word exactly what was said. But it’s dang close. Unfortunately, I do not record every conversation I have and my memory is that of a thirty-eight year-old with poor diet and exercise habits. Keep this in mind.
The concert/dialogue thingy began with a few songs, a couple jokes. And then I picked up the school paper and explained that the chaplain wanted us to come together to discuss what had been written in it. I read.
“Sincerity and Southern-fried humor made up for Shan Groves’ lack of musical originality in the small Martin Chapel concert Wednesday night. Groves alternated between an upbeat, acoustic guitar and a melancholy piano, sending out cookie-cutter contemporary Christian melody.
If you like popular Christian singers like Aaron Shust and David Crowder, then you will love Groves. However, if you are like me and have spent eight years surrounded by pop Christians and their favorite flavors of music, then Groves has nothing novel. Generic faith-based lyrics like, “I’d give up the whole wide world for my share of blessing” and “hallelujah, sing…all night, day, we will sing” pervaded the performance.”
I paid the writer a compliment I hoped would point the dialogue away from me and my shortcomings to stuff that really matters.
“It says something wonderful about you,” I told the students, “that you can hear these songs of mine, and my sermon in chapel, and think I’m saying something pretty generic.”
After all, I’d been singing and speaking mostly about “the kingdom” at EMU – God’s “dynamic” reign and rule on earth through His people, His will being done down here as it is in heaven. That certainly wasn’t a generic concept for me when I was in college. I’d never even heard such a thing! The students at Eastern Mennonite University, though, are truly lightyears ahead of where I was at their age. Shoot, in so many ways they’re lightyears ahead of where I am now!
“How incredible that you all are so used to loving your neighbor, simplicity, generosity, peace making…that it’s normal to you. That’s great!”
I told them I had an album banned by a Christian bookstore chain once because one song suggested that Jesus loves prostitutes. Years ago my record label sent promotional recordings to radio stations and book stores of me teaching the beatitudes, but erased the section about “blessed are the peace makers” because it might be too controversial. One Christian college student, after I visited her campus in the Southeast, wrote to her school’s newspaper complaining that I’d preached socialism by asking students to give to the poor!
The students at EMU just giggled at the absurdity of all this.
Faith with a horizontal dimension is far from generic and commonplace for most of us. But many students at EMU can’t imagine a faith without a heavy emphasis on “love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what they call “normal.”
I wish a horizontal faith was normal for me. It still feels very foreign at times. I’m not sure how it’s all supposed to work out. So very different from the faith I grew up with.
“There was a best-seller written by pastor David Platt about following Jesus, giving up the American Dream – a good book,” I told the students. “Do you know what it was called?” They just stared at me like maybe they’d never heard of the man or his book. “It was titled ‘Radical’,” I said. One student shook her head in disbelief. Others laughed.
With me and not at me. A glimpse of grace.
There would be more to come. But not without a little hell first.