Recently my friend Lisa invited me to join her at the weekly Blues Jam held in a local bar. So, late that Thursday night I headed down to the bar, expecting to hear some good blues, meet some new people and enjoy a beer. My expectations were met. The bar was a nautically-themed hole-in-the-wall, hovering above dive status by a hair, situated in a strip mall. The blues was hot. The beer enjoyed. I met a number of new people. However, I was greeted by another experience that far surpassed all that—the kingdom of God.
First of all, I was shaken by the realness of the people and community in the bar. Having slowly slipped into a world of mostly “church” people and middle class isolation in the past few years, I had forgotten the down-to-earth feeling I had known in bars in years past. I watched people come in and be embraced by other patrons. The servers had personal interaction and knowledge of their customers that was closer to clergy than barmaid. All around the room, the defenses that many of us Christians put up to make people think we are perfect were down. Stories were told, burdens shared and care for one another poured out.
One of the guitarists in the jam that night was a friend of mine named Bill. Bill is an excellent lead guitarist, but I have rare opportunities to hear him play outside of our church worship band. It was a joy to hear him play in this situation. As I watched Bill interact with the other players and the regulars in the bar, I was struck by his love and care for these folks and his ability to bring his life (one that is full of the grace and truth of Jesus Christ) into this situation in a way that was the living meaning of “salt and light.”
After his stint on the bandstand ended, Bill shared with our table that Big Jim (who had been singing) had asked him and Glenda (another member of our church’s worship band) to play/sing, “Precious Lord, Take my Hand” at his wife’s funeral the following Saturday. Big Jim’s wife had passed away the day before after a long battle with cancer. Bill was clearly blessed by this opportunity. I again thanked God for the way this man was being used to spread the kingdom of God.
After listening to a few more songs, I left the bar. Over the next few days, I thought about my experience there a number of times. On Friday night, I ran into Lisa and asked about the funeral. She said it went fine. She also filled me in that Bill and Glenda had played/sung, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” not just at the funeral, but at Big Jim’s house while his wife was moving from this world into the next. I was moved in my spirit nearly to tears.
I reflected more on this situation as I sat in church Sunday morning. Here is the conclusion I have come to: The kingdom of God is like the Blues Jam. It is a place where the reality of the human condition is not covered up by a set of unwritten rules that keep us from sharing our real lives like in many churches today. Everyone is free to be who they are. Real care is displayed for each other. It is not a place where the standard answer to “how are you doing?” is “fine.”
You’re more likely to get an answer in language that would not be fit for a PG-rated movie, but it is soaked and dripping with the real issues and messiness of life in the human condition. The Blues Jam is a place where a person like Bill can be “salt and light” to Big Jim and his family. Frankly, if Jesus were alive today, I expect I would find Him down at the bar more regularly than at church.
My friend Lisa relayed to me that she was recently asked if she would rather hang out in a bar or at church. Her answer was that she disappeared from church for six months and only two people called her to see how she was doing (a fact that saddens me deeply), but if she missed Friday night at the bar, her answering machine would be full of people asking where she was and seeking to find out if she was okay. Boy, that certainly sounds like the Christian community that we all need.
I think that old hymn needs a new verse, “Precious Lord, take my hand … lead me on to the Blues Jam.”
[Used with permission from TheOoze.com.]
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