Funny how you remember dates

Ten years ago today, for the first time, I walked into an Edmonton open stage, got up behind a microphone, and performed a few songs. The open stage was held at what was then the Druid South, an Edmonton pub that in longer exists, and the host was Chris Wynters, who is now the Executive Director of Alberta Music. Thank you, Chris, for giving me such a good start!

Before that night I’d played in church from time to time, and the odd one-off gig here and there, but never with any consistency. I’d always loved music, though, and I was curious about what it would be like to participate in an open stage. Little did I know, on that evening of October 2nd 2005, how much richer my life would be ten years later.

Since that night I’ve learned dozens of traditional folk songs, and written some songs of my own. I’ve become the owner of two beautiful guitars and a cittern, and I love playing them. I’ve performed at open stages, at gigs in coffee shops and folk clubs and churches, and at some truly amazing fundraisers with other musicians. I’ve recorded and released a professionallyproduced CD. And, best of all, I’ve made some wonderful friends.

Thank you, Edmonton music community. Today, I can’t imagine my life without you!

Owning up and getting comfortable

I started going to open stages about six years ago next month. For the first couple of weeks I just sat and listened while other people played and sang. Then I plucked up my courage and took a guitar along with me, and the rest, as they say, is history. Six years on, I’m deeply grateful for the wonderful community of friends I’ve developed through the Edmonton folk music community, and for the opportunity to hear great music, and play my own stuff, on a regular basis.

When I first started going out to open stages I didn’t tell a soul that I was a Christian, let alone a minister. I had this idea that I would be judged and stereotyped if people found out about my faith and my job. I don’t think my idea was altogether wrong; there are some people who just can’t see you in quite the same light after they find out that on Sunday mornings you wear a clerical collar and a robe and lead a congregation in worship. It’s all the Father Mulcahey and Elmer Gantry images and the stories about pedophile priests and so on. So, for a while, I kept quiet. I also was careful not to play any music that was clearly identifiable as ‘Christian’.

I remember when I changed my mind. We’d been going to the open stage (it was at a pub which is no longer operating on the south side of Edmonton) for I think about three or four months, when one night we had a guest visiting from New York City. He told us that he was in town for a conference about working with children (I think he worked for some sort of special needs children’s organisation), and he had come along to the pub to hear some music and maybe play some of his own. When his turn to play rolled around, he asked the host if people would be offended by hearing some bad language in his songs, and the host laughed and said, “Hey, we’re in a bar…” or words to that effect.

So this guy (I remember that his first name was Joel) got up and proceeded to sing four of the most blatantly and offensively pornographic songs I have ever heard in my life. They were not just suggestive; they were explicit descriptions, not just of sex, but of sex in which women were used and abused and objectified and so on and so on. Marci was with me that night, and she felt so sick to her stomach that she wanted to leave. As for our host, he was hard to shock, but he said to me afterwards (his head shaking), “I couldn’t believe it was actually happening – I had no idea he was going to do anything like that!”

(At one point in the twenty-minute performance Joel mentioned that he had had to take on an alias on the internet because some of the children he worked with had been finding his web site and listening to some of his songs. As one of the old guys in the bar commented, “You work with children?”)

I went home and I thought about that, and I had one of those “I will say to my soul” conversations you read about in the Psalms sometimes. I said to my soul, “Soul, you follow a master who treated women with a respect and understanding far ahead of his time – who reached out across boundaries and included the excluded in his circle of friends – who taught us to care for the poor and love our enemies and make peace. Why are you hiding this? Because you’re afraid of offending people? Joel wasn’t afraid of offending people, for crying out loud! Why should you be?”

So the next week I got up to play and I said, “Joel’s not here this week, but I want to thank him for helping me to come out of the closet. I’ve been holding back on playing any of my more overtly spiritual or Christian songs out of fear of offending people, but I figure that after last week’s performance, nobody’s going to get offended if I sing a song that mentions God or Jesus occasionally! So – here we go!”

Ever since that day, I’ve never tried to hide my faith when I’m out at open stages or gigs or chatting with my musical friends. I’m not pushy or belligerent about it, but I’m not backward about talking about it either if it seems to fit in with the conversation. I think that most people in the circle I move in know that I’m a Christian and many of them know that I’m a minister. I’ve had many wonderful, respectful conversations about spirituality and faith in which I’ve had the opportunity to express a Christian viewpoint and also to listen to other people’s viewpoints. A few people have occasionally accepted my invitation to ‘Bring a Friend’ Sundays at St. Margaret’s. As far as I know, no one in my circle (which includes atheists, agnostics, new-agers, ‘spiritual’ people, the odd Wiccan, and a few Christians) has stopped being my friend because of my faith. Some of them read my blog, and I’d be glad to be corrected if I’m wrong on that point!

I didn’t start going out to open stages as an evangelising project; I started going because I wanted to find a way to relax in the city. I wanted to play music, hear music, and make friends, and that is still my major motivation. But I also begin every day with a prayer that God would make me a blessing to the people I meet and that he would open up opportunities for me to share the good news of Jesus with others. And I’ve decided that when those opportunities come, I’m going to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and put in my two cents’ worth, with a prayer that he will use what I say to help my friends get closer to God (as I myself also want to get closer to God).

I got thinking about this because of a post over at Lesley’s place on ‘friendship evangelism‘. Lesley seems quite suspicious of the idea.

There are some churches where people are encouraged to make friends with non-Christians so that they can convert them. This is called “friendship evangelism”. At one level this might be okay – we share with our friends what is most important to us, but at another level it totally sucks – friendships are manipulated because people are seen as conversion fodder. And they eventually know it and feel slimed.

This worries me. Not that I think it describes what I do very accurately. ‘There are some churches where people are encouraged to make friends with non-Christians so that they can convert them‘. No, I didn’t make my friends with that in mind; I made friends with them because I found their music interesting and enjoyable, or because we often found ourselves sitting together at open stages. Certainly, in some cases, we’ve since had conversations about Christianity, but that was not the motivation for the friendships in the first place.

Still, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some of my friends do feel ‘slimed’ by the fact that sometimes I talk about my faith in our conversations, and (in a few cases) invite them to events at our church. If so, I hope my friends will say so in the comment section here. I can’t deny that I want to share my faith, but I’m certainly not interested in ‘sliming’ people, so if that’s what I’m doing, I want to stop.

Somehow I don’t think it is, though. Personally, I like people who know what they stand for and aren’t afraid to talk about it, especially if I can see that they are people of integrity and are good advertisements for their beliefs. If an agnostic raises questions about my faith and challenges me about some of the difficult parts, I’m not offended by that – I respect them for it and appreciate the way they prod me to think through my beliefs. I don’t assume that the entire reason they became friends with  me was to try to talk me out of my Christian faith, and I certainly don’t feel I’ve been ‘slimed’ by them. So unless I hear otherwise, I think I’ll just keep on doing what I’ve been doing (along with everything else, it’s just plain fun!) and see what the Holy Spirit does with these friendships that I enjoy so much.