But at the same time, the writer’s knowledge of the topic is transformed as a consequence of having converted private thoughts into a public symbol system. Such transformation occurs even when others do not read the text and provide external feedback to the author, although the availablilty of such feedback from the discourse community certainly fuels the transformation process. Kellogg, The Psychology of Writing, p37
I’ve read all the way to the cusp of Chapter Four. It’s a grey day, made mostly of stillness. The brown-splotched leaves outside my bay window bounce in what must be the tiniest of breezes; I stare, and they tell me nothing. As I fish Singapore noodles from the fridge, rain falls straight like embroidery thread to the ground. I remember a rock song, Dive, full of water rushing like an Appalachian creek. I’ve found my in.
A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to a concert billed as “an evening of stories and songs.” Which it was, kinda. It also had fancy lights, and smoke machines. In a town famous for stripped-down music–Austin City Limits, the Cactus Cafe–the juxtaposition had me tilting my head… but on the inside. Because this concert featured three big names in Christian music, and I already felt too “worldly” to belong.
See, I’m Christian Contemporary illiterate. I know few songs; I know even fewer artists. But the headliner wrote and performed Dive, a touchstone song for me, and…well…I could go, so I did. Particularly since my friend was going, too! But one song wasn’t enough to build the bridge I’d wished for.
At the time, I thought about calling this post “Layer Cake.” But it’s not accurate. I really like layer cake, with its striations of icing and crumbly fluff pulled together in each mouthful. For this concert, the layers never came together. I never quite managed those blended bites.
There was my outside, which lifted arms, shouted refrains, bowed the head. And my inside, which watched like an anthropologist. Somehow the stagecraft, the pacing, the people surrounding me? all built into hard shells of Instagram-worthy “engagement.” Not the raw frankness I associate with my life alongside followers of Jesus’ Way. The concert was professional; I received good return on my entertainment investment. Why, then, did even the night’s rawest story of need and connection leave me at an infomercial’s arm’s length? I taste truth in the artist’s faith and pain, but that night he didn’t bring me along.
Watching today’s rain through my living room windows, I remembered a different concert full of “Jesus music,” as my A calls it. A year ago I went with my sister to listen to Josh Garrels perform. At a punk club, rather than a church known for its acoustics. She and I found two of the perhaps fifteen seats, far back and on the wrong side of the curtain enfolding the audience. It didn’t matter. All of us were woven together by sound and faith—dads in porkpie hats, sling-babies with earplugs, women in gauze and rasta caps, middle-aged bourgeoises in their work clothes. Tears ran down my face as I mouthed the words in spite of myself:
Flood waters rise, but it won’t wash away / Love never dies, it will hold on more fierce than graves
I have no idea whether the other people in that room practice following Jesus the way I do. But I know we were gathered together in as much honesty as we could muster, and Jesus was there with us, as he promised.
(If you’re curious about Josh Garrels’ work, this NPR interview is a good place to start.)