In the weeks leading up to Music Sunday, Vicky Thomas asked people to talk about their favorite hymns and whether we had any stories about why we liked them. Several people shared profound stories of what a number of hymns from The New Century Hymnal and other books of music meant to them.
Strangely enough, I was stumped. Which is strange considering how central music has been to my faith. I grew up singing all of the Billboard Top 40 Episcopal Hymnal hits: “Hail Thee Festival Day,” “Earth and All Stars,” and, the favorite I shared with Vicky, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.”
In the week leading up to Music Sunday, I thought a lot about music that meant so much to me, spiritually speaking. And the song that echoed through my mind came from a Walkman, not a hymnal. It was a song from the soundtrack to the early 1990s comedy “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”
Bear with me here. See, in 1991, I was a 10-year-old Episcopalian who knew so little about my faith and church that I didn’t know the difference between Episcopal and Catholic. I had built up and calcified some pretty erroneous thoughts about God and the church. Among those erroneous thoughts: that God was the church and vice versa.
No one taught me this, I never read it in a book, but I believed it. As far as I knew, God was in the church, and we went to the church to see God. God’s music was in the 1984 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church. And, though no one told me, it was clear to me that the music I hear outside of church was clearly not of God, no matter how much I liked it.
In that context, I bought a cassette tape soundtrack of “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” a mix of hard rock and metal music that drove my mom a little nuts (and as such was to be listened to with headphones only).
Amidst a collection of songs with titles like “The Perfect Crime,” “Battle Stations” and “The Reaper Rap” was a song by Kiss that was something I’d been waiting to hear a long time.
The lyrics poured in through those rough foam headphone covers: “God gave rock and roll to you, gave rock rock and roll to you, put it in the soul of everyone.”
I listened to that track over, and over, and over again. Of course, it wasn’t a CD or MP3 player. It was a Walkman, so when the music faded out, I held down the rewind button, waited a minute and started it all over again.
It was a powerful lesson from an unlikely place. I couldn’t put words to it at the time, but it taught me that the spirituality I was seeking took place in the whole world, inside the church, but also outside as well.