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Gospel: A Real Career Killer, Reflections on the Living Word

by Sherry Cothran Woolsey

Last week I was leading some music for a preaching festival in downtown Nashville, and I was having a conversation with another musician. She shared with me that she was inspired by a story she had recently read about my journey called  “Ex-rock Singer Gives up the Stage for the Pulpit.” (That was the title of the article, although I’ve never really given up the stage.) Anyway, then she commented, in her notoriously cool way, “yeah, there’s nothing like gospel to kill your career.” We both kind of laughed at our shared experience, still harmonizing the space of clubs and churches, still trying to just be ourselves wherever we are. 

Somehow, it seems like a life-long task to harmonize the differences between sacred and secular spaces, not to mention the idea of the “career pastor” always was a bit of an oxymoron and these days seems to be fading from our denominational purview. Now that I’ve steeped myself deeply into both sides of the argument, I can say, like the Libra that I am, there’s harmony at the core. More than anything in my life, that seems to be my calling, calling everyone to find the harmony, the unity in the dissonance that is this human experience. In my experience, I cannot get away from the core of my own faith that seems to repeat this concept of unity evermore.

Recently, I preached a sermon on Pentecost, that mystical moment when the very first church experiences the presence of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s very essence, moving them to utter words in many languages, all saying one thing together at the same time: God is one God, come believe together, and pulling everyone into that stream that desired to come. We’ve been trying to re-create this moment for millennia now, getting it right, getting it wrong, still seeking, and groping for forgiveness, for answers to our impossible questions. We seem to find our oneness (which feels like an answer) best when we sing together, songs of hope, songs of peace, songs of a vision of a better world, inspired by this ancient story we call Christian. We also find it when we work together in the Spirit of Christ towards a common goal, a goal of wholeness, a goal of well-being for all. When we help one another together, we feel good about ourselves and these simple things are what we need most: songs and work that lead us to wholeness. Through the embodiment of our ancient story, we seek to become a living Word for our time.

The Word became flesh and dwelled among us, the Word then became Spirit and moved into us and then the Spirit became Word again at Pentecost. A cycle, a rhythm, the Word, the Living Word writing us.

The first Biblical poets wrote down the words of God inspired by the Divine Wind, the ruach, the breath of God. God breathed and there was life and word and purpose. There was a living Word that created a world. God spoke and we spoke, sometimes the interpretation is a bit off, but if you look deeply, you will find an organizing principle there, a harmony, a rhythm in dissonance, still speaking, still creating, still believing in us.

The Word provides an axis for us as we flail about in a chaotic orbit of the foundational truth, love. The kind of love we rarely experience, the kind of love we long for and will not settle ourselves until our hearts find it.

That is why I take up my life in the Living Word, there is a world there that I long to be created in. A world where we seek to exist in unity, where we seek to allow the peace and oneness of God to harmonize our differences, a world where we can love our enemies and wish light and peace to those who use us despitefully; a world of transformation. It is a world in which I take refuge often, there under the wing of the Lord, hiding in the cleft of a rock where God covers me there with his hand. Perhaps it is the only real refuge I have ever known. When you allow yourself to be written by the Word, you begin to understand that the Spirit is the most real and substantive part of you, the thing that will continue when all else is gone.

So I sing anywhere and everywhere because it conjures up that thing in me that is most real, the spirit that becomes the word that becomes life; beyond career or any genre known as gospel, sacred or secular. I sing because it harmonizes disunity, it is like a thread that mends what has been torn. I find that I sing these days in many different ways, preaching, working for transformation, writing or just being. If I lost my singing voice, I would still be able to sing.

Walter Brueggemann, the Old Testament theologian/poet/philosopher, says that the Israelites sang their new lives into being. Through poetry and song, they became a people. They sank their anchor into the Divine wind of God and they spoke of this God and as they did, their freedom became real. They began to see themselves as free, their identity as slaves began to fade. They wrote new words for their new lives, rooted in the reality of God. It became our Biblical text and now it is our living Word. The one we take up and breathe into life in our own time, allowing it to write us as we learn to speak and sing living words.

This guest post submitted by Sherry Cothran Woolsey, Pastor of West Nashville UMC.  You can connect with Sherry at www.sherrycothran.com.