And why is it that I follow Jesus?
Yes, that is our question of the day. Not an easy question, but one with a simple answer: I follow Jesus because that is what I must do. And if I tell the truth, there are days I would rather not. There are days when the price feels too high, in terms of energy and sacrifice. There are days when it feels really, really lonely to follow Jesus. There are days when it seems like a fairy tale, a myth, a totally implausible belief that God could be made flesh and walk upon this earth, experiencing anger and illness and pain and joy, just as we do. There are many days when I feel like a lunatic for living this life.
The truth? I didn’t choose to follow Jesus. I didn’t get up one morning and say, I think today I’ll follow Jesus. There was no lightening bolt. And no, I do not have delusions of grandeur (well, some might disagree with that)– so I don’t think that Jesus picked me out of the crowd and said, you there, you must follow me. In fact, I did everything possible to avoid responding to this call to discipleship.
The best way for me to answer today’s question is with another question. For me, the answer to the question of “how” I came to follow Jesus explains the “why” more persuasively than any other story or argument.
As I said, I never meant to follow Jesus. I meant to become a singer. I meant to spend my life travelling the world and singing on the world’s great opera stages — in fact, when cleaning out a drawer the other day, I found the mission statement I wrote and posted above my desk in all those years of singing and performing and auditioning. And I was blessed — I have gotten to do a lot more of that than many of my fellow artists. And I continue to sing, for which I am also grateful.
All those years of singing and study were spent living in tension with three questions: what do I need to be a better, more marketable singer; what does it mean to be a better singer; and, the final and most dangerous question — why do I sing at all? In the beginning, answering that question seems a lot like answering today’s question. My first response is to say — I must sing, I feel it in my body, it grips, my soul, the few moments in my stretch of days as a human being on this planet when I have felt wholeness have always been when I am singing. But there was one day that made me change how I looked at that question and that answer.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning in September, now 11 years ago. Suddenly, singing seemed narcissistic and, well, irrelevant. And my questions changed. Yes, I was still spending much of my effort on the task of singing well and singing better and communicating more and getting more and better singing work, but the question I was asking now was deeply complex: what meaning does what I do have for the wider world and does it have any value at all? It was in the answer to that question that I found out why I followed Jesus.
The answer did not come quickly, not quickly at all. I finished a course of music study, I spent time in Europe studying and auditioning, I took a lot of voice lessons, I made a lot of trips to New York for auditions, I got some work and I did some good work. One cold fall day, just returning to Washington after a long and difficult audition trip to Berlin, with a bad head cold and even worse jet lag, I received an email from the music director at my church saying that the wife of our associate pastor had passed away and we were on call to sing at the funeral the next day. Yes, I was not in the best condition to sing, I could have and maybe should have sent a substitute. But I didn’t; I went — after all, it wasn’t supposed to be what we singers would call a “difficult sing” — there wasn’t any music to learn, it was just going to be some hymns. I was thinking totally like a singer — I could use the extra cash, just returning from a trip; it would be a simple gig; blah…blah…blah…
Before that evening, I thought like a singer. After that funeral, I had become a disciple.
What happened on that November evening in 2008? I met the life of a woman I hadn’t had taken the chance to know before her death; I met for the first time the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, and I experienced the power of music in a way I had never imagined. And I finally understood why I sing; I understood the comfort of music, I understood the worship possible with music; I understood that music, like Jesus, was something that bridged human pain and divine comfort, all in one package.
The changes didn’t happen overnight. But in those years since 2008 until now, the draw of the opera stage has faded and the need to sing as an act of faith has taken its place. The need to help others experience that unity of mystery and humanity grows daily and so, I find myself here, in this strange place that I never anticipated. But the inevitability of this moment is so clear, even though the path ahead may not be.
And so you ask, why do I follow Jesus…because he sings to me and through me. Why do I follow Jesus? Because He makes the music possible.