In the meantime
I’ve moved recently, and so naturally this upends long-ago untouched piles of accumulated stuff that I forgot I even had. Like an old Cathedrals poster announcing their appearance in suburban St. Louis back in the mid-1990s. I think I’ve mentioned this poster before, but no matter. It hung in the lobby of the Baptist Bookstore (pre-Lifeway days) where I worked in my first years of college. The question wasn’t so much getting tickets to the concert (I dispatched with that straightaway). No, I spent most of the two months leading up to the event scheming about the exact way I would lay claim to this poster before the concert so I could get it autographed the night of by each of the members. I had not yet figured out that the rest of world, even much of the rest of the evangelical world, wasn’t half as crazy as I was for the Cats and southern gospel music, which meant I didn’t know enough to be embarrassed when the store manager looked at me like I was either stupid or pitiably addled to ask in the first place. “It’d just get thrown out.” I was just thrilled.
This was right after Roger Bennett had been first diagnosed with cancer and had come off the road to receive treatment, and I was devastated when I got to the church and realized my poster would lack his signature. It would take years, and my own experience with cancer, before I would come to realize how selfish and insensitive my disappointment was. But at the time, I confess to being fairly self-absorbed. I had all the instructional videos he had put out at that point and was deeply envious of that early solo album of his with him standing with a keyboard on the cover. I think I may have – yes, I’m pretty sure – practiced my own imitation of that pose with my Casio 3000.
At the time, of course, the conventional wisdom of fear was that Bennett wouldn’t survive what was clearly a scary situation. With time and the great grace of providence, he has survived … and survived and survived. In the car on the way home from dinner tonight I was listening to Live in Music City (still) and the “But God” cut came round on the player. I confess to rarely not listening to music analytically and critically. This is, for the most part, how I encounter the world and why and how I specifically enjoy gospel music – understanding and inhabiting its intricacies, listening to the sometimes lyrical, sometimes flatfooted interaction of lyrics and music and performance and style – the sum of its parts and all that. But tonight my mind wandered and I thought of Bennett and that by-now seemingly faraway time when his world was first upended. Not long after, he started appearing on stage vocally and has ever since. And though as a critic and observer and fan I find the result of his vocal work to be often ineffective, there is probably no way to measure how valuable and recuperative and essential that time and space and freedom on stage have been for Bennett, a born performer and gifted interpretive artist. I tend to be of the less-is-more school, which is why I wish performers would stick to their strengths and not invade their colleagues’ turf, but then that kind of strategic calculation is the first thing you toss out the window when cancer kicks the door in.
Too often, we listen through the lens of our personality and experience or expectations. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does create unavoidable distortions. Our impulse is to reify the strength or courage or simple act of physical endurance it might be for a man to stand, to sing, to ply the art of his trade in certain catastrophic circumstances – grief, fear, failure, … cancer. It’s an honest reaction. Perhaps in thus honoring the effort we hope to believe that we too will have such strength to stand should such misfortune ever befall us. But whatever evidence this endurance may be of eternal truths – of God’s sovereignty or the perseverance of the saints or the triumph of the spirit – such feats ought equally to remind us – me, you, we, I – that faith still wears a deeply human face in ordinary life. We may understand it better by and by, but it sure doesn’t hurt that there’s a song to sing or play or listen to or hum in the darkness of the soul’s long night to help us cope in the meantime. I think I’ll go hang up that poster now. And hope for another day, another concert, another chance to get that last signature.Email this Post