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 chaplain at Eastern Mennonite University assured me that everything had gone well at chapel, despite the lack of sponsorships and conversation afterward.
That night I played a concert designed by the chaplain to bring families from the community onto campus. It was not a concert for students and, as planned, very few of them showed up. But moms and dads and children sure did. I sang some songs, told some jokes, shared a few stories and nearly got all choked up hearing the four-part harmonies coming from the crowd of hymn singers. Wow, the Mennonites can sing! And so many great conversations in the lobby afterward. A great close to day one at EMU.
The next morning the chaplain handed Micah, my road manager, a school newspaper. “Shaun Groves Performs Cliche Christian Pop Concert” one headline said. “What Was I Saved From?” another headline questioned. And a third article, “Reflection on Chapel”, called heaven and hell “worn out metaphors.”
While Micah read, I, blissfully unaware, spoke at the campus’ seminary. It was a little gathering of thirty-ish seminarians, thinking together about the New Testament’s models for giving and going to serve the poor. There was a real connection with students at the seminary, warm greetings, great conversation, new friends made.
I’d moved past the previous day and was feeling good about how day two was going when Micah handed me the school paper.
“This makes me angry,” Micah said. “You might not want to read it,” he warned. But the chaplain had asked him to pass it on to me with good reason. The chaplain had scheduled a second concert for that evening, a concert for students this time, in the coffeehouse on campus. He wanted it to be as much “dialogue” as music. And he was excited that students were already talking.
I read the first writer’s criticism that my songs didn’t say anything she hadn’t heard before. I read the second writer’s anger at hearing me teach that a person needs saving at all. I read the third writer’s critique of heaven and hell.
And I got it.
Some students at EMU were upset, but not with me. They were against what I represented to them: evangelical Christianity.
To some of them, I represented a brand of faith they associated with compassionless conversion, faith without ethics. All vertical and no horizontal. My very presence on campus made some angry.
And I would soon hear all about it.
I found two of the writers on Facebook and messaged them privately, inviting them to talk through our differences publicly at the concert/dialogue that night or privately on-line if they preferred.
And as I did, I couldn’t help noticing the writer with strong opinions on generic pop music was a fan of Relient K, Skillet and…the Jonas Brothers?
Yea, this is about something bigger than music. Bigger than me.