Finding grace in unlikely places

Published 4:49 pm Thursday, June 9, 2022

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For the longest time, I believed that there was a divide between the Sacred and the Secular.  I was raised in a religious tradition that wanted nothing to do with the Secular.  My middle school and high school education was at a Christian school.  Every day, I was taught that the Secular World hates Christians and wants to take our liberties from us.  It was Geometry with a side of Fear Mongering, a culture that truly believed it was the victim of attack by the Secular World. You know of this reality, because there is an entire sub-culture of Christians who want to live in the world, but not be of the world.  Those are the words of St. Paul, yes, but I don’t think St. Paul intended for the Church to have its separate bookstores, music awards, and film productions.  St. Paul didn’t want us to remove ourselves from the world, for if that was a successful endeavor, how could anybody witness to the liberating and life-giving love of Christ?

I no longer subscribe to such a divide, because, well…I’ve found so much wonderful wisdom and meaning in things that have nothing to do with my Christianity.  The soundtrack to this article is a diverse playlist of music that lifts my spirits with their anthems of love, celebration, heartache, and joy.  Faith No More, a band that really reached peak popularity in the 90’s after the release of their album The Real Thing, has a B-side from that album called “The Cowboy Song.” Jim Martin, the guitarist, layers his sound with so much texture that you’d think the band had 4 guitarists.  Mike Patton, the vocalist extraordinaire, has an anthemic voice that can go from a whisper to an air raid siren faster than it took me to type this one sentence.

But the song that really got me moving this morning was “Purple Rain” by the one and only Prince and the Revolution.  If you know much about Prince, you know how eccentric he was.  His genius is evident on that song when, with just a few chords and a haunting melody, he offers a full range of emotional expression.  His best full album, however, was the soundtrack to Batman from 1989.  Trust me.  It’s killer.

This song can get me singing in ways even my favorite Sunday hymns cannot.  I find in ‘secular’ musicians a rawness and honesty I rarely find in the Church.  Prince speaks honestly of pain and heartbreak, and he captures, through various instruments, the whole range of emotions that come with heartbreak.  In ‘sacred’ music, even contemporary Christian music, the open expression of such emotionality is discouraged at best, maligned at worst.

But I want to be close to the people who tell the truth, both about who they are and how they see the world.  Perhaps that’s why Rage Against the Machine is often my sermon writing soundtrack.  They refuse to mince words when analyzing the oppression and pain in the world, and this empowers me to do the same in my preaching and teaching.  Jesus didn’t mince words either, even though the Church loves to domesticate him and make him much more prim and proper then he truly was.

Returning to the divide between the Sacred and the Secular, my belief is that either everything is Sacred or nothing is.  Either God can be found in all things, even the mournful guitar of Prince or the screams of Rage Against the Machine, or God isn’t found anywhere at all.  God is either a God for all, in all, and with all, or God isn’t as good as we’ve believed God to be all along.  To people of faith, specifically Christians, my encouragement is to stop limiting yourself when it comes to what can be a vessel of divine inspiration.  If God could be found in a dirty manger in Palestine, God can be found in the wax-pressing of a double LP.  Perhaps there is no better time to pull out that double sized Led Zeppelin classic Physical Graffiti. Maybe Christ wants to speak to you through the voice of Robert Plant and the guitar of Jimmy Page.  You’ll never know until you open yourself up to the surprise of grace found in the unlikeliest of places.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.