I was in San Antonio this past week, a great city in which I once lived and worked, for a meeting of pastors and seminary professors who are exploring together new models for the relationship between local congregations and seminaries/divinity schools. We’ve been called together by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; the Lily Endowment has invested in the conversations, and Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School guides our explorations. I am glad to have been included in the conversation.
The week in San Antonio was good. We met at the Oblate Renewal Center on the campus of the Oblate School of Theology. The Oblates have a vocation of missions and education within the Catholic Church, and they were wonderful hosts to us. A group of young Franciscan monks were on retreat at the same time we were having our meetings; it was a joy to see them walking across the campus in their brown cowls, belted by simple ropes. I felt connected to the broader Christian family, especially to our Catholic brothers and sisters.
At morning prayers one day, our guest musician was Johnny Bush, who is a member of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio. Johnny Bush is a honky tonk and country music legend, having written hit songs and played and sung with folks like Willie Nelson. Johnny plays the guitar with soulful sensitivity; and, at one time, he had a smooth voice with a tremendous and seemingly easy range. Then, in the mid-1970s, that amazing voice left him. For a season, he could hardly talk. His range was gone. His vocal chords were irreparably damaged.
Johnny Bush spiraled downward. Eventually, his trouble was correctly diagnosed, and, slowly, he learned a new way to sing. He doesn’t sing the same way, or with the same ease, as he did when he was a young man. But he’s singing again, and his voice resonates with his suffering and recovery, with the depths he’s plumbed and the heights to which he has soared.
At our morning prayers, I could hear Johnny’s heart bouncing off the strings of his guitar and feel his soul in his voice. He touched me deeply. And, Johnny Bush challenged me: sometimes we have to learn a new way to sing, because we’ve lost the original way. Life takes away our voices for a season, and we need to regain them. We need to relearn how to sing and tell our stories. It’s never too late for us to get our voices back.