In all my many travels, I get to play a lot of different kinds of places and events. I mean a LOT! C’mon… I’ve played American Dixieland to Muslims in the Middle East! lol
I was reminded of a student camp I played a couple of years ago over in the eastern part of Tennessee, for a church denomination known for their ‘exuberance’ in worship, and for their disdain of ‘modern cultural influence’. As many of you know, I am the essence of modern culture (lol), with no better example than my hip/cool hoop earring (properly threaded through my left lobe, as everyone knows is the ‘correct’ bit of cartilage for straight guys).
Alas, this bit of chrome proved to be a point of contention for the Elders of this group. When I arrived on scene to play the first night of a week-long camp, the band leader (a friend of mine) said that I’d need to remove my ear-wear. This was not an unreasonable request… but I typically don’t get this at events designed to reach students. I quietly complied and the night went on (and on and on and on).
The next night came and I arrived a bit early. My band leader buddy once again pulled me aside and explained that he had ‘taken some heat’ on account of my worldly fashion statement. Apparently the Powers-That-Were observed my earring and wondered… “who is this worldly guitar player? How can he possibly lead our students in worship? He’s wearing what? An EARRING? Tool of Satan!! He’s obviously NOT a Christian!!”
You can imagine my reaction! When I explained to my friend that I wear a hoop as a sign of being a life-long bond-slave to Christ, he understood and assured me that he had tried to defend me. Despite the fact that I’ve been a believer since the age of 13 (and an ordained minister since 2004), I was ‘weighed in the balance and found wanting’. At least I was allowed to come back and finish the camp… lol (my buddy and his group have since broken ties with this denomination).
On the ride home that night, I immediately thought of the scripture in Matthew where Christ talked about how we shouldn’t judge people, unless we want to be judged as well (Matthew 7:1). In this era of ‘rock star as human billboard’ I thought about showing up the next night with a clever yet enigmatic phrase scrawled on my hand… EMPTY 71.
Get it? MT 7:1? MT? Empty?? I know you get the reference. People who judge are no worse than the Pharisees who would publicly denounce and deride those of lesser spiritual insight. Truly these self-appointed judges are nothing more than empty shells, embracing a form of godliness but denying it’s power.
But even though I was wrongly judged, I deemed it hypocrisy on my part to attempt to judge them in however subtle a manner. But that phrase, Empty 71, has stuck with me. From time to time I think about using it, in an effort not to be a judge of others, but as a reminder that I have NO right to judge any one.
So if you see me out playing a gig, and you see Empty 71 written on my hand, rest assured that my heart and head are asking God to forgive me for being so empty and judgmental, and to fill me instead with the Spirit.
Empty 71… I rest my case!!