Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chapter 6: Finding Harmony

In the summer, I went away to a real university to study linguistics with Wycliffe Bible Translators. (See a picture of me here!) Finally in a predominately Christian environment without the influence of IBLP, I was able to evaluate my own values for the first time as an adult.

I enjoyed the chapel services with slow, rich, harmonic, sacred choral songs equally with the mornings when Dan Everett jammed on his electric guitar. I attended "normal" church services and instead of fleeing, I let the songs fill and move me. I even danced if I felt like it! I still had a lot of hangups and anxieties, but I was breaking free! I tried my wings in other ways--buying my first jeans, swimming without sleeves, going to a movie theater, taking communion with real wine, chatting with a male friend unchaperoned. Every step was tentative, I was always figuratively looking over my shoulder, watching for evidence that God had removed his protecting hand.

Returning to my parents' home in August was. . . stressful. As soon as I could afford it, I flew to the Philippines to spend a few months with a team of Wycliffe linguists. I had just settled in when I had a little shock. I was working on a slow computer project when my missionary friend . "Put on some music if you want to," she offered, gesturing to her CD collection. "Who do you like?"

I reached back quickly across the years, aware that my musical tastes didn't match my age. "I kind of like Twila Paris," I said, scarcely believing my own voice.

"We have this one," she said, pulling out The Warrior Is A Child. At the sight of the album cover, my head began to whirl. I was thirteen again, rewinding the borrowed tape again and again. I loved that song! But I wasn't prepared to face those emotions--not here, not now. I turned back to the computer and mumbled something noncommittal.

Over the following weeks, however, I did plunge into those emotions. Deep down I was still afraid--afraid the music would expose me in some invisible way to dangers or temptations I couldn't handle. But I had no desire to be controlled by fear, much less fear of a mere fantasy.

The couple next door spent most of their time living in the mountains with their language group. Becky left me with a key to their house and invited me to use her piano or borrow from their music collection. Entering the dark, silent bungalow was like going through a wormhole. Becky had been a young adult when I was just a kid, and her cassette cabinet was a treasure trove, my own little Narnia. Inside its doors I encountered all my old favorites: Twila Paris, Michael Card, Sandy Patti, Michael W. Smith, John Michael Talbot, and even made some new acquaintances, like Rich Mullins.

And so I recovered my childhood faith, starting not exactly from scratch but from where I left it when I turned fourteen.

Talbot sang me to sleep with songs about love, Card affirmed the value of wisdom and truth, Mullins expressed my deep conflicted hopes, and I sang Twila's songs about trust and mercy nearly every day. When she sang "Daughter of Grace", I saw myself as in a mirror.
She spent half her life working hard to be someone you had to admire
Met the expectations and added something of her own
So proud of all that she had done...
So proud at all she had not done...   
Broken and discovering that she could fail
Heard her own voice crying for help and she was
Carried in the arms of love and mercy
Breathing in a second wind Shining with the light of each new morning Looking into hope again 
Finally ready to begin
Born for a second time in a brand new place

I now recognized legalism as a poison, and like Luther, I saw grace as the antidote. The picture of God that I constructed that year on a tropical island in Southeast Asia was a beautiful one. I had lots of guidance from friends who had seen more of life than I had, but the finished product was my own. And that God sufficed for quite a few more years during which I moved back to the States, started a family, and found a church that worshiped the same God I did.

My husband and I collected numerous contemporary Christian albums from the 80's and 90's that we would have enjoyed if we hadn't been giving heed to Gothard:  Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Rich Mullins, David Meece. We went to to hear Michael Card sing in person; we attended a Phil Keaggy concert. I even performed in church with an accompaniment track.

The years of internal trauma left permanent scars, though. My parents went back to the church we used to walk out of. The baby brother I used to carry out to lobby started a praise band there. I was happy for him, but when we visited, sitting through a service in that sanctuary filled to the rafters with memories was emotionally exhausting. Dancing at weddings also attended by my parents would leave me agitated to the point of physical symptoms.

And when my husband and I found ourselves looking for a different church, I would frequently have panic attacks in the pew. Sitting in a beautiful auditorium, surrounded by symbols of hope and peace, listening to sweet songs of grace based on the Beatitudes, the tingling would start in my feet and creep up my legs while I silently reminded myself that I was safe, that there was nothing to fear, no invisible enemies, no one to throw me out or send me home.

As I moved out of fundamentalism back through evangelicalism and kept on going through liberal American Christianity, I inevitably outgrew the concept of God with which I had begun. I found I actually had more in common with Michael Jackson and Katy Perry than with Rich Mullins or Michael Card, though I remain grateful to them for helping me along the way.

Because, in the end, music is (or should be) art, an expression of the heart, a tangible sharing of intangible perception. It may be lovely, it may be angry; sometimes it is hilarious, other times it may not even make sense. What speaks to me will not be the same as what speaks to my husband, or to my kids. It won't be the same every week, or every year. Art is not algebra; it is not static, its meaning is not intrinsic. Like life itself, we imbue art with meaning according to what we bring to it. 

Music can be a powerful means of uniting people, or of separating them; a means of broadening our understanding of each other, or of isolating ourselves. There will always be artistic expressions we don't understand. If we approach them with fear, we will inevitably view them as hostile. But if our hearts are open and our minds curious, each composition becomes a way to enter another's experience.

Music is not a force to be feared, but a gift to be shared. 


  1. "...we imbue art with meaning according to what we bring to it."

    Aaaand this is 100% true of almost every single thing that may fundamentalists live in fear of contaminating themselves with.

    Mind-boggling that so many prefer to live with a view of a pedantic, micro-managing, petty and maliciously vengeful God..."You went to a ROCK concert?? That's it - your baby dies!!"

    I can't stomach that idea of God, personally, and am bewildered why so many seem to find a god like that attractive and worthy of worship. =(

    1. Hmm, I've never heard of someone's baby dying as a result of going to a rock concert. What I have heard of is someone's relationship with the Almighty dying as they get farther from Him, and closer to the world. (There's a reason for the second part of James 1:27.) I thought that Evangelicals were all about the relationship with God. In a romantic relationship, do people usually threaten their partner with death for unfaithfulness? Or, is it love that keeps them faithful, and not fear?

  2. You were at SIL-UND? When? I was there in 2009-2010, although I'm sure you were there much earlier. So fascinating reading your story.

    1. I was there in 2000. It was a fabulous experience in so many ways.

  3. Love this article.....all I can say is Grace.....I couldn't live any other way.....