Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Power of Prayer, or The Day My Hair Exploded

I was born with thick hair. Women who have thick hair understand this is both a blessing and a curse. When thin-haired women complain about their fine, flat hair that won’t do anything, we have no room to join in. Our hair does plenty. And usually without our consent.

We thick-haired women learn early in our lives that peace with our hair is best kept if we allow it to do what it wants. Years ago, I quit trying to part it against its will, or maintain a long, straight, shiny, curtain of hair flowing down my back. My hair does not like to do these things. And I’m OK with that.

Also early in life, I discovered a key problem with thick hair. It’s hot. Not hot in a sexy kind of way, but hot in a sweaty-masses-of-hair-matted-against-the-back-of-my-neck-in-the-dead-of-a-Texas-summer kind of way. So in hot weather, I put it up. This works best if I can twist all my hair onto the back of my head and secure it with a large clip. They don’t actually make clips that can handle my hair, so I buy the ones that are available and use them until my hair breaks them. I’ve had clips pop into pieces right off the back of my head. I’ve had them sadly and quietly crumble into a defeated pile of wire springs and plastic teeth on my bathroom floor. I sweep up the remains, apologetically brush them into the trash, and head to the store to purchase the next victim.

One Sunday morning about 15 years ago, Chad and I were sitting in a worship service at A&M Church of Christ in College Station, Texas. It was summertime, and I had hot-rolled my hair and secured the curls with a large clip on the back of my head, safely and comfortably off the back of my neck. Wearing a floral summer dress, I thought I looked quite elegant. (Vanity tends to be a downfall of mine that has resulted in all kinds of public disasters, but I refuse to give it up.) At the end of the service, a hush fell over the congregation of 1,200 as the closing prayer began. As the prayer leader earnestly implored God for blessings and healing and other things that truly mattered, I felt something begin to move in the back of my hair. As the springs emitted tiny pops and my hair began to loosen, the horror of what was about to happen in this silent, reverent gathering hit me. This hair clip was going to give up the ghost, and it was going to happen.



My prayerful thoughts turned from the sick and the hurting to my own dire situation.

“Please, God, please,” I begged. “Keep this clip together until church is over.”

The prayer leader continued on as I felt the tension growing in my hair. If I could only make it to the end, the imminent explosion could happen in a much less noticeable manner. The leader’s “amen” was my finish line, and I focused on it, willing my clip to stay intact with every ounce of mental energy I could muster.

Finally, the prayer began to wind down. The leader uttered the long-awaited “amen,” and in the second of silence that followed, my hair clip exploded with such force that I heard gasps. I cautiously opened my eyes to see tiny springs and pieces of plastic teeth raining down on the people all around me. I was afraid the people sitting behind me had received the worst of it, so I turned around to face a wide-eyed woman, frozen in her seat.

“What was that?” she panted. I think she thought she had been shot at.

“My hair clip exploded,” I meekly explained.

There were several pieces of the clip that never made it out of my hair, so I brushed them out when I got home. One more tiny spring fell out and pinged its way across my bathroom floor.

Then I got in the car, drove to the store, and brought home a bag of my hair’s next victims.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love Rescue Me

This past Friday night, Julia and I went to U2charist (or, as I like to call it, “Bono Church”) at First United Methodist in downtown Little Rock.

Go here to find out what U2charist is.

I found out about a Little Rock church hosting a U2charist not long after I wrote this blog post about how my favorite church songs, at least right now, are not in church. My more meaningful worship moments are in my times alone with my iPod.

With the exception of Third Day, you won’t find any music marketed as Christian on my iPod. No Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe or whoever is popular in that genre right now. This is for the same reason that I don’t read much Christian lit. Not that I have negative feelings toward finding inspiration in those things. But for me personally, I’m drawn to finding spiritual meaning in less obvious places. So I listen to U2 and Muse and Norah Jones and Lisa Loeb and Sting and Seal and Paramore. And it’s in there. You just have to listen for it.

Of course I’m not the only one to have discovered spiritual meaning in secular music. This is how U2charist came to be. Finally, I didn’t have spend these moments alone with my iPod. I could experience this type of worship in a corporate setting with others who are wired more like I am.

When Julia and I walked in to the gym at First Methodist, the lights were dim, candles were lit and bread and those fancy goblets for communion (We silly evangelicals typically don't know the names of things in liturgical churches.) Before the service started, U2 music played through the speakers, including “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “The Saints Are Coming,” a remake of a Skids song that U2 did with Green Day to raise funds for the devastation left after Hurricane Katrina. It’s also a favorite of Julia’s.

Then Michael Mattox stood up and welcomed us to the service. He’s the senior pastor at the church. Worshiping in a new way challenges us to think differently, he said.

“That’s what the service tonight is all about,” he said. “Learning to sing a new song.”

The service opened with “With Or Without You.” The church worship band played it. I knew the band was going to be playing a few of the songs, which bothered me at first. I’m just partial to Bono’s voice. Those of you who have a Bible study routine where you have your favorite chair, your favorite pen, your favorite coffee, etc., will understand this. Bono is my coffee. I’ve read enough about the man to know where these songs come from, and his voice is one of those things that helps point me to God.

But the band was great. They had put a lot of time into learning these songs. And the main vocalist was no Bono, but the dude has some PIPES.

Next was a time of prayer with the U2 music video “Magnificent.” This is my favorite worship song right now. It reads just like a Psalm:

“I was born, I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice from the womb
My first cry, it was a joyful noise”

And the video, filmed in Fez, Morocco, depicts a white veil being lifted to reveal a beautiful city and beautiful people. Could it mean freedom for the Middle East? Or freedom from the things that veil our hearts and souls? U2 leaves it to us to interpret.

The service continued with a reading of Psalm 40 (“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry”) and then a prayer of confession based on the U2 songs “Acrobat,” “A Sort of Homecoming” and “Love Rescue Me.” This was followed quite naturally by the song “Grace” (“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things”).

After a prayer of joy and concern, Rev. Mattox introduced a U2 video that was almost taken out of the night’s line-up. I’m glad they left it in. U2’s June 5, 1983, performance of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre was included by Rolling Stone magazine in its list of “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But what does this song mean for Christians? It’s a call to end complacency and to stand up against violence—especially violence that has been carried out around the world in God’s name. Not just in U2’s native Ireland, but anywhere.

Then we recited the Lord’s Prayer and Rev. Mattox read Jesus' words from Matthew about letting our lights shine. This led into the offering, all of which will go to Heifer International. U2’s only stipulation with allowing their music to be used like this is that funds be raised for one of the U.N. Millennial Goals.

After “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” in which Bono acknowledges faith and its ability to exist alongside doubts, we moved into communion while we listened to “One,” and then we watched the concert video of “American Prayer” (a Bono/Dave Stewart/Pharrell Williams collaboration written in the hopes that Americans, and American Christians in particular, will respond to the international AIDS crisis).

The whole thing lasted about an hour. Rev. Mattox said the church will have more U2charists in the future. I hope so. This kind of worship is what works for me right now. And I know, believe me—I KNOW. Worship isn’t supposed to be about me. I get that. But sometimes you have to find your own way to God when the old ways just don’t work anymore. These songs are not new to me. But they are new in this context of worshiping with others. It works, so I'm going with it.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him. – Psalm 40:1-3