This is such a good post I decided to repost it on my own blog.
I've been listening to Ray Lamontagne for the last couple years. Ray is a brilliant songwriter who delivers stories in something like a deep smooth whisper. He has that golden voice but I think it's his honesty that I connect with even more. His songs seem to be born from questions and pain, and if I myself am honest in saying more, I think I connect with this because I am a person who thinks a lot about pain. I wrestle with the broken stuff in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. I have a lot of questions.
It is for all of the reasons above that some friends and I drove 500 miles from Florida to Atlanta to see Ray Lamontagne play on a Saturday night a couple months back. We parked and made our way excited to the door, and as we took our place in line, I heard it:
"You're going to Hell."
The man's voice was loud and not kind and he added his thoughts on fornication and homosexuality, angry answers to questions that no one was asking. In the first moment I was shocked and I then I was sad and then I was walking towards him.
"Do you think this is working?," I asked.
I figured he would be excited that someone actually wanted to talk to him, and he certainly seemed prepared for an argument. Instead, the yelling guy told me that I would need to talk to a different person, pointing toward the younger man to his left. (The yelling guy needed to keep yelling.) Now, this whole thing surprised me because I had no idea that these people had assistants. I guess the kid was learning the ropes, hoping to be prepared to yell on his own within the next year or two...
I told the kid that they needed to stop, that they were only doing damage, offending everyone. i told him that people respond to love, and that I could hear no love in their shouted judgments. His response made me more frustrated, and after a brief back-and-forth, I rejoined my friends in line and entered the show.
It took a while to calm down and let it go. In theory, the yelling guy and I believe some of the same things. "We're on the same team", you might say. But I believe in a God who maybe doesn't scream at people the first time he meets them. Evangelism aside, screaming at strangers seems a horrible marketing plan to me. I believe in a God who places a great emphasis on love, a God who loves people and asks his followers to do the same.
By the time Ray took the stage, I was able to enjoy the show. The best music is the kind that moves you, reminds you you're alive, takes you on a journey. I smiled through the opening "You Are the Best Thing", imagined during "Empty" and remembered during "I Still Care for You". I had been hoping all night to hear a song called "Jolene" and so I smiled again when it's opening chords arrived as the encore.
The song is a story song about a man lost and looking back on a broken relationship. You can see it from start to finish and the chorus echoes the words "I still don't know what love means". It is a confession, something like a question. Something in me stirs when I hear it - there is freedom in honesty and those are words I can sing myself.
And it hit me during that encore that I wished the shouting man could have heard Ray Lamontagne sing those words. I wish he could have attended this show he chose to protest. I don't know how hearing happens - how certain things move and change us, but I wished it could have happened to the guy outside.
I think I went back to him in my mind because he is also the reputation of The Church. We are known to the world as something like the guy outside. We tell people how to vote and think and live. We shout our judgments. We are quick with our answers and slow to confess our questions, maybe slower even still to meet other people in theirs.
A shouted "You're going to Hell" is an awful introduction to a God who desires to love and know His children. Ray had my attention with "I still don't know what love means." I can relate to that, and I can't help but think that a lot of other people can as well.
And it's interesting that all of this happened on a Saturday night, because Saturday nights set up Sunday mornings. Some people stay out late, hunting for meaning and answers in songs and bars and a thousand other places, because they're certain that our Sunday mornings would only be more like shouting strangers. But what if we were known as a people in true pursuit of love, a people committed to representing it well? What if we were known for constantly showing up to wrestle the needs and questions around us, and what if we took it so far as to be honest about our own.