Now and then, I’m blessed to see a time of unity among people who might otherwise have a hard time finding anything in common. I spend time with a group of people each month so we can play our stringed instruments together. We play folk songs, fiddle songs, hymns. Sometimes we sing with the music, other times we just play. We always have a great time and I go home feeling full.
Now if I were to spend the day in church with these same people, I’d likely go home feeling drained. After a day spent listening to a preacher talk and the group discussion (if there is any) is about trying harder to be good and please God, I’d be ready to go home and take a nap even if the group of people was my best friends. But then, at this point in my walk, this group of people couldn’t be my best friends.
So I spent the whole weekend at a folk music festival with a bunch of conservative WASPS, most of whom probably only miss the weekly church meeting for special occasions such as out-of-town music festivals. I’m sure none of them ever cuss, smoke or drink. I’m also sure they’d mostly think I’m off my rocker for being a ‘free believer.’ In this setting, though, I feel right at home with them.
Our focus was not on our differences in doctrine, or on dos and don’ts, or on religion at all for the most part. Our focus was on what we all love: music. We talked some, about the pretty weather and about how to play this or that chord differently, but mostly we just played. We played songs together that we knew, and listened to songs played by others that we didn’t know. We sang (sometimes off key) and laughed off our mistakes. We asked each other how long we’d been playing an instrument, rather than how long we’d been going to this church. We shared what we knew that someone else could learn from. Obviously there was no need to shove it down each other’s throat. Funny how only church doctrine conversations usually take on that tone.
There was an unusual and enjoyable church service Sunday morning, ending the weekend. We sang A Capella gospel music, then heard a sermon on unity in the church, and how that is what God’s heart is. There were many denominations represented there, and I wonder what the reaction was in some of them as they listened to the preacher tell them that many church traditions stand in the way of unity in the body. It’s true. Yet the whole weekend, this group of people had been unified through music and love for the God that we all worship. It was a balm to my soul. I hope this brought some healing to others, as well.
The most amusing and touching part of the weekend was seeing my conservative Baptist friends from our music group go wild cheering over the dynamic performance of a self-described black Indian named Bing Futch. Visually, he blended about as well as a chocolate bar in a sea of marshmallows. He was the only non-WASP there, with dark skin, dreadlocks down past his waist, and several ear and nose piercings. Moving among the crowd of conservative 70 year old Baptist ladies in their clean white tennis shoes and jackets with their church logos on the front, he seemed perfectly happy and at ease. Everyone there had wonderful things to say about him as a person as well as a performer; I didn’t get to meet him but he seems to really love people.
His music is full of his own history (his-story) which is African and Seminole. While I love traditional American folk music, I’ve often felt it’s very limiting to understanding the struggles, pain and joy of the human race. Hearing Bing’s music brought images of proud, brave, strong and yet often downtrodden people of the past and present, from all over the globe. People who have often been used as stepping stones for the white man’s greed and glory.
I have always felt that the WASP version of Christ and Christianity is sadly lacking. The blend of selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement that is so common to the ‘progress’ of the white race is all too obvious in most of Churchianity. I believe this prideful attitude is at the root of the insistence of the salvation-by-works doctrine that is at least blended into the doctrine of ‘grace’ at most church buildings. (Some buildings don’t even bother with the grace part).
So the idea of what Jesus might look like is not fixed in my mind. I have always laughed at the insistent images of Christ portrayed in most Protestant works of art, both ancient and modern. He is always slim, blue-eyed and lily-white, with immaculate brown hair to his shoulders. (My husband, who has access to a much better hairbrush than Jesus could have had, never achieves such a smooth look). He is always dressed in a clean and blindingly white robe, with a glow about his head and usually a martyred, distant look on his face. It has never appealed to me.
We can be Christ to one another, or at least try to. The 'Christ' I experienced in most of my time in traditional church was white, with freshly clipped short hair, starched to the nines and always carrying a Bible. If I asked for help, they had the answer in the book and sent me on my way (that is, if they even had time for me at all).
No, the Jesus I find appealing and long for, if I try to picture him in a fleshly vessel, is one of dark, dark skin and thick, knotted hands, scarred and tough from years of work. Maybe he has long dreadlocks, or maybe just long bad hair. Maybe he wears traditional African garb, or maybe a dirty t-shirt and jeans. His eyes are as dark and rich and filled with love as can be. He says “hey little sister” when he sees me and I find such comfort burying my face in his hair, breathing in his scent and feeling his warm, strong arms around me. He might hold me as I cry, or tell me a story. Maybe he'll take me on a ride down the highway on his Harley, telling me with a wink, "Hang on little sister, here we go."
What would the reaction be around here in the rural Baptist Bible belt, in one of the ‘white’ churches, if such a man appeared in their building? Would they run? Some might. Others might throw him out. Me, I’d want to leave the building and go have coffee with him. Maybe we could just talk, hang out. Maybe we could sing “Amazing Grace” together as we strummed our instruments, laughing at our off-key voices. I know he wouldn’t try to ‘fix’ me. We’d just love each other, and play our music, and that unity is what would bring healing.