Blues Evangelist

We’ve returned from Memphis blues-soaked and soul-bare, stripped of all pretense. The blues can do that to you, what with roots so deep in the hard truths of human suffering. But any time I find myself poured into a sea of humanity I always emerge with a greater awareness of my own frailty. Something about rubbing shoulders with so many strangers up and down Beale Street left me with a question written on my bones.

Beale Street is a mess of neon, a seduction of the senses with all that color and noise and scent of barbeque. Music drifts from every opened door and tramps compete to charm wallets open. The air quivers with living breath, the concrete pulses a steady beat. We stayed up too late every night, breathing that air, filling our eyes and our hearts and our stomachs. There were more than 260 acts from around the world playing on Beale Street for the International Blues Challenge—the best of the best all gathered together on one street. There was music, so much music, more music than we could ever see or listen to. Through each door we entered we found delight and surprise and a gift to the spirit.

A musician once told me that creating can be a dangerous place—so much of what our culture sees as sinful can be wrapped up in the offering, that moment when the lights go low and all eyes turn to the stage. And when he said that I felt the thrill of the danger; the way I can feel music beating inside me, the pull of all that comes in with the night air.

I guess that’s why they do it, those street preachers. You know, the ones with the signs and the sandwich boards. They must feel the danger too. It must make them afraid. One night, as we made our way down Beale with throngs of other people, one of those preacher men stepped up onto a box and made a little stage for himself in the middle of the street. Lifting a sign in the air declaring the fate of all sinners, he shouted out at passers-by to repent. People filed past him on all sides, barely giving him a glance. He looked over top of the people instead of at them. He didn’t reach out to a single one.

That artist who told me creating could be dangerous? He also said “art is a liminal space.” That word, “liminal,” it means “threshold.” He was telling me that art—all beauty—creates a doorway that, when stepped into, takes us to a new place. We get to choose what that place will be. Will it be darkness or light? I believe that when we have Jesus, music—all different kinds of music—opens a doorway to a sacred space. The Celts call this a “thin place.” It’s a place where the veil between heaven and earth is a thin membrane, and the holy is felt as close as a breath on the cheek.

One of our new friends was playing in the semifinals for the IBC that night I saw the preacher on the street. It just so happened there was a Garth Brooks concert going on that evening too. As luck would have it, the concert let out just as our friend sat down to begin his set. Just he and his guitar. People began pouring into the bar, bringing with them all manner of noise and distraction. These people knew nothing about the blues competition going on. They came to drink and hang out with friends. They had no idea how nerve-shattering and exhilarating it was for our friend to make it to the semifinals. The bar was so crowded we could barely breathe without disturbing our neighbor. They just kept coming, oblivious to this big moment, filing past him on all sides, barely giving him a glance.

It was a performer’s nightmare, but our friend handled it with such grace. “God bless you all,” he said, between songs, in gratitude to the blues fans who fought their way to the front of the crowd to cheer him on. He sat on that little stage and reached out with his voice, not looking over them, but inviting them into his story by sharing songs of his life—dripping with pain and joy.

Some of the people were converted. Several folks who came from the Garth Brooks concert accepted his invitation and were drawn into the spell of the blues. A few of them filmed him with their smartphones and stopped chattering briefly to listen.

We’ve returned from Memphis blues-soaked and soul-bare, stripped of all pretense. We have heard the invitation of the blues. We stepped through the door into the light, into a sacred place.

Playdates with God: The Lot Show

There has been so much beauty in the days this past week as we learn to navigate this almost-empty nest. There have been alone moments and love moments and moments of quiet worship. There have been hard-work moments, celebration moments, and that one moment the boy called home. There have been the moments of tears of the bittersweet, of feeling named by another’s words, pride for a good friend. But one of my sweetest joy-moments this week came in the back parking lot at the high school.

I have never been an insider, am still coming to terms with that, but whether it’s in the world of writing books or the world of high school band boosters, there is something about the way I am that keeps me on the edge of being in “the know.” That’s why, when one of the other percussion moms said to me after the Friday night football game, “They’re doing a lot show after the game. Come on, let’s go watch!” –well, when she said that, my first response was, “Me? Am I allowed to go?” We had been working the band booster concession all night; it was so hot our hands had turned to liquid inside our plastic gloves. I had this cold and was all fuzzy from the cold medicine. My back hurt, my feet hurt, and I still needed to clean up the pretzel station. But when she said, “Let’s go!” I knew I wanted to. I left the salt scattered on the counter and that one pretzel rotating slowly in the warmer.

There is no way to explain the rush of pride and joy and love I feel when I watch my son make music. So I won’t even try. It’s the same every Sunday morning when I see him behind the drum set, playing with the praise band in church. It makes me so happy. I stood in the high school lot, soaked in the heat of a long night, bone-tired and congested, grinning from ear-to-ear. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That’s what I see when I watch my boy use his gifts. And it’s a beautiful thing. (Can you tell which one is him?)

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Let’s Share Our Favorite Christmas Music

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Last night we drove the minivan up to St. Albans to see the Christmas lights. It’s a small, sweet little display and it’s been a family tradition since the boys were small. Jeff always packs them a cooler with a special drink—rootbeer for Teddy, grape soda for Jeffrey—and we all pile in (even the dog—this is Bonnie’s first Christmas, after all), play the Christmas music, and breathe deep the season. When they were tinies, I would get them all scrubbed up before we left, put them in fuzzy footie pajamas, and watch them fall asleep on the way home. So much excitement for two little boys. I’ve been a bit sentimental about these traditions this year, trying not to think, “This is the last time …” since Teddy will be going away to school next year. The treasure is in the little things.

Last night, it was important for me to drive because last year, on this same trip, with me behind the wheel, we had an accident on the way home. No one was hurt but it was scary and I’ve been going over it and over it in my mind ever since. But that’s a story for another time. The point of this story is that because I drove, Jeff was in charge of music. He turned on the Contemporary Christian Christmas station of Pandora.

And I was bored to tears.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m too particular. Music is very important in our family. We build conversations and relationships around it. Both of my boys play in the praise band on Sunday morning and Jeff leads. Little Jeffrey is in Marching Band and Indoor Drumline at the high school. When I cook dinner in the evening I’m playing Ellie Holcomb or Christa Wells or Mat Kearney or some music that feeds my soul and takes me out of the stress of the day into a new and beautiful place.

I wonder if it’s the same for you? And have you been bored with the same old ho-hum Christmas albums? All this to say, let’s share some of our favorite Christmas music, shall we? I’ll go first, and then, you. Please tell me in the comments about your favorite, favorite Christmas albums. I really want to know.

Here are some of mine, in no particular order.

  1. Brian Setzer’s Boogie Woogie Christmas. Yes. This is just fun. We have the dvd version of his Christmas Extravaganza, and we watch it every year. It’s a great way to get in the holiday spirit.
  2. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. Classic. I swoon for Bing. I also love watching The Holiday Inn this time of year. What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic.
  3. A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra. Nothing smoother than Frank’s voice on this album.
  4. Johnny Cash’s Christmas with Johnny Cash. I grew up with Johnny Cash playing on the radio. I’m crazy about all things Johnny. This album is no exception.
  5. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful Christmas. We used to play this a lot when the boys were small. They loved his “Zat You Santa Claus?” It made them erupt in fits of giggles. Ah, happy memory.
  6. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Of course.
  7. Sixpence None the Richer’s The Dawn of Grace. I just love Leigh Nash’s voice.
  8. Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong. This album is so clean and lovely. Sarah’s voice is perfect.
  9. Casting Crown’s Peace on Earth. So many good songs on this one.
  10. Yo-Yo Ma’s Songs of Joy and Peace. Yes. Just to be different. The great artist has several guests performing with him, including James Taylor and Chris Thile.
  11. Over the Rhine’s Snow Angels and Blood Oranges in the Snow. Discovered this wonderful husband and wife team at Laity Lodge a few years ago and have been a fan ever since. Karen’s voice is butter.
  12. James Taylor At Christmas. I love James. This album makes me happy.
  13. Third Day’s Christmas Offerings. A very special album to us for the ways it weaves into our own story. This was released the Christmas after Jeff was saved and for that reason the songs will always be near to my heart.
  14. Chris Tomlin’s Glory in the Highest. A great album altogether but I mainly listen to hear Audrey Assad sing “Winter Snow.” I never get tired of that beautiful song.

Ok. So there are a few of my favorites. I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as I publish this post. How about you? Will you share with me?