Once, over our monthly lunch, I told my friend Glen Hackler, “Listening to Steven Curtis Chapman makes me with I could sing; listening to Rich Mullins makes me with I could write. Both of them make me wish I could tell stories better.” That conversation took place about 1998. My feelings haven’t changed.
Last Saturday night we heard Steven Curtis Chapman at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center in Midland. I tweeted, “An excellent night. There was a time I could enjoy a concert without crying through every song. Apparently, not now.”
I have mixed feelings about crying in public. I don’t especially want to cry in public and I certainly don’t feel comfortable doing it, but it happens more often with each passing year. It has been my goal to not become hard and crusty as I get older; well, apparently I’m getting squishier instead. I’m good with that. I would rather be softer with age than harder.
My tears Saturday night reflected a deep investment in Chapman’s music through the past twenty-five years, and the way his stories have penetrated my heart. I wrote: “Two of the deepest influences on me were Rich Mullins and Steven Curtis Chapman, because they told personal stories with their music.”
Their songs were more than catchy melodies; they were glimpses into a lifelong search for how to live for God every day. Not only did those two songwriters influence me as a musician, but their statements of grace and freedom shaped my theology more than any preacher or writer.
One of the songs Chapman sang Saturday night has this line: “There’s more to this life than living and dying.”
As I wiped away the tears from my cheeks (before they found a home in my beard) it occurred to me that in my desire to be a mentor to men and a trail guide on our shared spiritual journey, my main responsibility was to show that life was more. To pull back the curtains of daily distraction and point out – there’s more to this life than living and dying. There’s more.
One of my favorite comments about Rich Mullins was made after Rich’s death, “I wondered what window Rich was looking out of.” The question being, How did Rich Mullins see God when all the rest of us saw scenery? How was he able to see so much more?
And so, my role as a trail guide is to bring men to the window and pull back the curtain to show there’s more to this life; to keep men moving past the early switchbacks that send too many casual hikers back to their cars prematurely, and say, “It won’t always be like this. It will eventually flatten out and the view will change. There’s more to enjoy just around the corner. Let’s go together.”
The first person to show me the more of life was a young man named Ray Tuttle, who chased me across the parking lot of FBC in Norman, OK, one Sunday evening in September 1976. I had just begun my studies at the University of Oklahoma when Ray hunted me down. He bought me a Coke that evening, and invested his life in me for the next two years.
He taught me a lot of disciplines, like reading my Bible daily and memorizing verses and teaching dorm Bible studies, but those were only tools to help me see belter. What he really did was open my eyes to a faith beyond what I’d inherited and a bigger life as a Christ follower. Ray pulled back the curtain and said, “There’s more to this life than living and dying.”
I was watching an adventure movie about guys climbing in Patagonia, called 180* South. The young climbers were mentored by 70-year-old Yvon Chouinard, who founded the clothing company Patagonia and Chouinard Equipment, which would become Black Diamond Equipment. Toward the end of the movie they were about to summit a previously unclimbed mountain which they named Cerro Geezer, when one of the young men asked Chouinard, “What do you want to call the route?” When someone makes a first ascent, they get to name the route so they’ll be remembered by all future climbers who follow them. Chouinard said, “Nothing. Just Climb it. Walk away. Doesn’t matter anymore.”
This was a comment made out of strength, not despair. Chouinard had enough fame. He didn’t need more notoriety. It was enough for him to mentor those young men as they climbed together to the summit, and show them there was more to life than being a famous climber.
Last Saturday night Steven Curtis Chapman reminded me of who I want to be. I want to be a curtain puller, a story teller, a trail guide, who’s message is this, “There’s more to this life.”
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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