Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Sing Because I’m Happy (or Because I’m Not)

Alama Kante is a thirty-one year old professional singer from Guinea. A couple of months ago she underwent surgery in France to remove her thyroid gland, a procedure that is ordinarily done under anesthesia. Because of the possibility of damage during the surgery to her vocal chords and vital nerves, the procedure was done while she was under hypnosis rather than under anesthesia so that she was able to respond to instructions to sing. That way the doctors could be sure they were not harming her vocal chords and thus damaging her singing voice.

That’s right—she sang during her surgery!

There’s something to be said for singing no matter what you’re going through.

Over the Father’s Day weekend I was remembering how my father, the late great Champ Ruffin (1921-1979), long-time non-music reading song leader of the Midway Baptist Church (located several miles outside of Barnesville, Georgia on City Pond Road) often sang the chorus to the gospel song “On the Jericho Road” as he was going about his daily routines:

On the Jericho Road there's room for just two
No more and no less just Jesus and you
Each burden he'll bear each sorrow he'll share
There's never a care for Jesus is there.

I can remember him singing that song in good times and bad, in happy times and sad; I suspect it was helpful to him to remind himself that Jesus was always there for him.

There’s something to be said for singing no matter what is going on in your life. As the great Neil Diamond sang,

Song sung blue, everybody knows one.
Song sung blue, every garden grows one.
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then;
but when you take the blues and make a song,
you sing ‘em out again …

Read the Psalms and you’ll find that there are more laments—the Hebrew version of the blues—than any other type of psalm. In their laments the Hebrews sang out their pain to God and sang out their trust in God. If it was good enough for them, it’s bound to be good enough for us.

A while back I was going through a low time in my life. One day, my Good Wife said, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” “Thanks,” I said, “but how did you know?” “Because you’re whistling again,” she replied. Maybe if I had kept on whistling I would have felt better sooner.

As the old hymn reminds us,

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Yes, keep singing (or whistling) no matter what you’re going through. Sing like you’re happy even when you feel sad; sing like you’re free even you feel captive. It’s how you get the blues out of you. And it’s how you keep your voice, which people need to keep hearing …

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wedding (and Worship) Gnats

I’m writing these words on June 10, the thirty-sixth anniversary of the wedding ceremony that marked the beginning of the marriage of Debra Kay Johnson and me, an occasion that reminds me of how blessed I am and of how gracious she is.

Many members of both of our families were present at the ceremony that took place at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in Debra’s home church, the Leary Baptist Church. Leary, as some of you know, is located about twenty-five miles southwest of Albany, and is thus embedded deep among the peanut fields of southwest Georgia.

It is also well below the gnat line. Our wedding being a June South Georgia wedding, the gnats were uninvited but not unexpected guests.
I mention that fact because while all of my family members who attended the wedding lived in Georgia, they lived above the gnat line. (For the inexperienced and uninformed, the gnat line runs more or less from Columbus in the west to Savannah in the east; the part of Georgia above that line is sparsely populated with gnats, that part below the line is densely populated with them. I don’t how they know where the line is.) Now, thirty-six years later, if the subject of our wedding ever comes up in a conversation with some members of my family, I still hear “I will never forget those gnats!” One of my aunts, the first time I saw her after the wedding, didn’t say “What a nice ceremony!” or “I hope you will be so happy!”; no, she said, “I couldn’t believe those gnats!” “But it was a nice ceremony,” I responded. “I wouldn’t know,” she said, “all I remember is those gnats!”

It was, in fact, a very nice ceremony. It’s too bad that so many of my folks can’t remember it because all they could pay attention to was the gnats.

The funny thing is that I didn’t notice a single gnat that day and have no memory of any gnats being present in the sanctuary. And while I had spent some time below the gnat line since I started going home with Debra, I certainly wasn’t a native and had not become acclimated to the little pests. It’s hard to believe that the gnats were just polite and so chose not to bother the bride and groom.

The difference in my experience and that of my family members, I think, was that I had more invested in the ceremony than they did and, being so invested, I noticed nothing other than the experience of marrying Debra. I’m not sure I would have noticed if the roof had caved in. I was there to marry Debra and nothing was going to distract me from that experience.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here about the ways in which we do or don’t experience God when we come to a worship service and about the ways in which we are or aren’t distracted by whatever little irritants circumstances or people or life send to visit us …