I was born half-Baptist (the East Texas, King James-carrying, pipe organ, hymnal-singing, Southern-type Baptist) and half-Pentecostal (the Holy Ghost, jumpin’ and shoutin’, hand-waving, prophecying, Southern-type Pentecostal). Later, I was born again.
The son of an insurance salesman and a social worker, fructifying in the piney woods of Texarkana, I was as muddled as the name of my town. We drove a light blue Ford Thunderbird; not the old, classic kind, but a brand new one that had a sticker on it. The one with the electric windows and mirrors and the headlamp covers that flipped open when you turned on the headlights and an in-dash eight-track player. My dad and mom both used Aqua Net hair spray. He parted it on the right side and always carried a comb. She got permanents and had curlers that heated up every Saturday night while we all watched The Lawrence Welk Show and Hee-Haw. The eight-tracks in rotation were Elvis, Willie Nelson, Olivia Newton John and Bill Gaither. Everything I’ve ever done musically can be traced back to there—that Ford Thunderbird, those sounds, the view out of those windows and my brother punching me in the arm on the way to Sunday morning Church. That is all metaphor and all true.
I didn’t mean to write and sing songs for a living. Doesn’t seem like much of a thing to get paid for. I’d guess the odds are about the same as winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning. Given my nepotistic hookup, my assumption was that I would move back home after college to sell insurance for my dad and eventually take over the family practice. Who doesn’t love a good actuary table?
And yet, one late October night, on an apartment balcony in Waco, Texas, just off of the Baylor University campus where I was student, a friend spun yarns that fell on me like a blanket and the course of my life was altered. He was an itinerant pastor of a rural church just outside of town.
“So, I get a call at two in the morning,” he says. “It’s Carl Reeves on the phone, ‘Pastor. We need you. You gotta get out here, now.’ And so I go. I get in my truck and I go,” he says. “It turns out Carl has a cow that has taken sick and he wants me to pray for it. To get in the mud, put my hands on this cow and pray for divine intervention on behalf of this bovine beast… And so, there I am. In the mud, chasing this cow around, trying to get my hands on the thing long enough to spit out a prayer.”
Right then, I was being rescued. I had left the church and this was the beginning of my way back. As it goes with hypocrisy, judgment, dogmatism, and all the rest of it that Jesus put to death, it’s hard to see in yourself what you readily see in others. And into my cynicism and anger my friend began to dream aloud,
“What if church really was like family. What if we pretended the, ‘brother and sister, son and daughter,’ stuff was real. What if relationships were thought to be rare and valuable things. What if it was just a bunch of people that loved each other and were simply trying their best to follow this Jesus we read of in scripture. What if we pretended, the ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ thing was a better way to live. What if we got in the mud for each other at two in the morning? What if the cow dies and it’s ok because we are there, in it together. What if we pretended we are all sinners. What if we pretended grace is real. What if the word ‘pretend’ felt less powerful than the word ‘believe’ because we did actually believe. What if…” | CLICK HERE to read the full story