A few days ago a pair of songwriter-musicians, who are Christians, announced their divorce. I am thinking of them tonight, Easter Saturday, the Great Vigil, and feeling sad and solemn.
Why should I feel so sad? I don’t know them; they are not my friends and they are not my heroes. And I don’t believe that sadness is the only appropriate emotional response to the news of a divorce, especially when I know next to nothing of the stories behind it.
But when the people whose particular brand of confessional, spiritual music has companioned you for half your life announce that the love they’ve organized their lives around is broken, apparently it hits you personally.
My best friends and I used to play his songs on the guitar in our undateable college years.
Danny and I spent another late night over pancakes/ Talking about soccer and how every man’s just the same./ We made speculation on the who’s and the when’s of our future/ How everyone’s lonely, but still we just couldn’t complain./ And how we just hate being alone/ Could I have missed my only chance… But if the birds and flowers survive, then I’ll make it ok.
In Southeast Asia, my fledgling-faith sister sang his words, too. Take to the world this love, hope and faith. I strummed awkwardly on my Thai guitar. She took the bread of life to the villages. And let the bread on your tongue/ Leave a trail of crumbs/ To lead the hungry back/ To the place they are from...
My children sing her songs, and fall asleep with her melodies in their ears as the sun sets. I sing them, too, and cry, even before this happened, I cried, because they’re beautiful and true, and maybe I’m broken in some of the same places she is.
I grew up in knee-deep in the world of Christian radio. I waded through the Christian Bookseller’s Convention and the National Religious Broadcaster’s convention wearing Doc Martens and no make-up. I was cynical about the Testamints and the Go Against the Flow t-shirts before I even knew the word commodification. But I loved it, too, especially in those perfect days, the late nineties, when we had the burgeoning “indie” Christian albums, and Rich Mullins was still alive, and we got beautiful first albums from so many artists: Jars of Clay, Carolyn Arends, Waterdeep, Jennifer Knapp, Sixpence None the Richer, Caedmon’s Call.
Even then, in the late nineties, CCM was changing. It wasn’t the same place it had been a few years earlier. Remember when Amy Grant and Sandi Patty announced their divorces, how the stations stopped playing them? How we all judged them, skeptical of their commitment to Jesus. We spoke about the failure of the Christian music industry, how it took naive artists and thrust fame upon them without shepherding them, uprooting them from their churches and accountability structures. It was the industry’s fault, but also, Amy and Sandi were our role models, and they had let us down. We couldn’t play, or sell, their music anymore. Because they weren’t married anymore. And we had to make sure everybody understood that that was wrong. If we kept playing their music, people might be confused.
That was the wrong response - or at least, it wasn’t the right response. It wasn't the best response. And I’m happy to see that the vapid and vituperative internet hasn’t exploded with judgement or criticism or calls for boycotts for these musicians; things have been mostly quiet about the end of this marriage. Granted, this couple doesn’t quite have the Amy and Vince level of celebrity, and they removed themselves from true “CCM” many years ago. But maybe the difference in response also stems from a growth in humility in us listeners. I’d like to think it does, anyway. I’d like to think that when Christians who write songs make mistakes they still get to keep writing songs, and we still get to listen. That we don’t think we have the right to call their very salvation into question.
But what is the right response?
In one sense, unless you know them personally, it’s nothing. You don’t need to say a thing. The state of marriage and family and salvation is not suddenly in question. It’s not the case that if you stay silent but keep listening to their music you are implicitly affirming divorce.
In another sense, the right response is prayer. To pray for them, and for anyone whose love is broken or breaking. To ask for humility and clear vision of yourself, to ask for God’s grace to strengthen your marriage. To acknowledge that you could be in the exact same situation, but for the grace of God; and yet that the grace of God is with them in that situation too.
And maybe the response is to be more willing to invest in your own friends. To go to the hard places with them. To ask more questions instead of tiptoeing around; to invade their privacy, if they'll let you. To be more honest about your own struggles, too.
These songs have been with you from your restless teens to your broken twenties and your tired thirties. They were from Texas, and you were from Texas. They were Presbyterian and then Episcopal, and so were you. The pushed back against convention, they said bad words, they got prophetic. They married a little later, they had little children, and so did you.
The grace of God is with them, and the grace of God is with you.
I want to say that it’s a minor tragedy, tonight, as I sit in vigil, thinking of the rescuer. I’m thinking too of a man in Texas who lost his nine year old son yesterday. Of a refugee family of eight in Minnesota who can’t find work because they don’t know English, don’t have a car. I’m thinking of the fears that keep me from living whole-heartedly, of the selfishness that turns me inward instead of outward.
But none of these failures of love is a minor tragedy, they’re just all bits and pieces of the one great tragedy, the reality of a broken world, the need for a rescuer. As we keep vigil and lament tonight, we lament in hope, because he's coming.