I recently had someone ask me if I ever went through a faith “deconstruction.” Honestly, I hadn’t thought too much about it. I normally work with others in their deconstruction, but my quick response in that moment still seems accurate. I replied, ‘I’ve never had what you might call a macro deconstruction, but I’ve had several micro deconstructions along the way.’ My faith was never about to unravel, but it was shaken. I thought of the way Brian McLaren’s book, The Last Word and the Word After That, shook me in my 20’s, for example. It’s strange now to think that this book (necessarily) frightened me, but it did. I’ve had a few of these moments throughout my life. One such moment, however, came not from a book, but from a jazz concert I attended as a teenager. In fact, this was probably one of the moments when my faith was shaken the most.
Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been deeply moved in church services. When you could count my age on one hand, I would leave a puddle of tears on the wooden pew over which I knelt in prayer. I really sensed God’s presence. Later, in my teenage years, I continued to sense God’s nearness, especially during times of (musical) worship. I guess this is why I eventually stumbled my way into becoming a worship leader; I wanted to help people experience what I experienced. Such an endeavor is, of course, fraught with many dangers, but God works through our fraught mess and ministers to the people God loves, which includes us ministers.
I was a real geek when I was a teenager (a phase I have never fully grown out of). I ate lunch in the band room, spent my free time playing unique trumpets at the music store downtown, and even got beat up once on my way home from piano lessons. The geekery was all worth it though, because I loved music. I suppose I was fifteen or sixteen when my friend Jeff and I went to see one of Nova Scotia’s great jazz musicians, Jeff Goodspeed, in concert. Back then he was in a sax quartet that I believe was called Down There Sax Quartet. They were astounding. I mean, really incredible. At that concert there was a particular moment which, if my memory serves me well, occurred during one of Goodspeed’s solos, that moved me very deeply. I think I had tears in my eyes as he played. I know this may not make sense to everyone but that moment was, for me, a huge crisis. In fact, it was probably one of the greatest moments of crisis I’d ever gone through in terms of my faith. As soon as I was overwhelmed by my emotions of joy, I simultaneously felt my stomach churn with fear. Why? Because I had only ever felt that particular emotion at church. If I was now feeling this emotion at a jazz concert, what did it mean? My mind was frightened by the only answer that seemed to make sense to my young mind: perhaps I had never sensed God at all, but was only moved by the music. This was what was running through my 15-year-old head. Honestly, something changed in me that day though I can’t say exactly what. Maybe that was the moment I became more cynical. Cynicism is a great cover for fear, and fear is exactly what I felt.
I haven’t spent a lot of time reflecting on that experience these past few decades. I suppose it occupied some passing moments in my mind, but the incident came flooding back just a few weeks ago when I read a tweet. I’ve search for the tweet and sadly can’t find it, but somebody tweeted something like, “Maybe God *was* in that key change.” When I read those words I thought about that particular shattering moment I encountered as a teenager. I wanted to whisper in the ear of my frightened fifteen-year-old self: “it IS God.” When I was young, my problem was that God was far too small. That, of course, is still my problem (we ministers do well to remind ourselves of this). I deeply loved God but had unfortunately relegated God’s mysterious presence to a particular place. Or, if not a particular place, to a particular people (who happened to be a lot like me). This is why rather than feeling that God had invaded the moment at that concert I could only surmise that God must not have been in the church where I had originally thought God to be. I hadn’t yet realized that “the wind [Spirit] blows wherever it pleases,”1 and that that night it happened to be blowing through the bell of Jeff Goodspeed’s saxophone.
I’m older now and, unfortunately, haven’t lost all of my cynicism. Christ, have mercy. But I have come to learn that God is not limited to my place, even though place is immensely important to me. Rather, God is everywhere, “over all and through all and in all.“2 God’s wind is not relegated to the sanctuary or prayer room but blows throughout the entire cosmos leaving wonder in her wake. What shook me those many years ago wasn’t merely the beauty of jazz, but heaven itself. Instead of panicking, I should have shouted with Jacob “the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it…how awesome is this place…this is the gate of heaven.”3 This is what I wish 15-year-old me knew.
O Precious God, expand our minds and hearts until we move from panic to trembling awe at the sense of your overwhelming and unpredictable Spirit. Let your surprising Wind blow in strange moments and unexpected places. Melt our cynicism to the tune of Jeff Goodspeed’s saxophone and whisper into our souls, “it IS me,” until our hearts become young again.
1 John 3:8
2 Ephesians 4:6
3 Genesis 28:16