Last night at Jubilee, Eileen and I were standing near the bookstore talking to a friend when I saw Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken casually stroll right by us, heading toward the room where they later played. Like an awkward, twitterpated fan, I walked over to the doorway where they were standing and waited for them to finish conversing with another fan. Eileen came over, and eventually we both caught Derek’s eye. He turned to us. I stepped forward, shook his hand, and stammered something like, “I just want to thank you – God has used your music to change my life.” He didn’t quite know what to do – I don’t think he was expecting to meet a starstruck seminarian at this event. After the awkward beginning, though, the rest of the conversation was great – we talked about his music, their new baby, our joys and struggles with living in community. As we left I thanked him for blessing us with this music that evening. Throughout the whole concert and for the rest of the night, I was elated – I had just met one of my heroes.
Thankfully this didn’t work out like the time that I almost met Brian McLaren. He was on campus at the seminary last year for a speaking engagement which, thanks to my work schedule, I had been unable to attend. But that day at lunch, as I was going through the line in the dining hall, I turned and behold, to my right was Brian McLaren. My mind started racing. Do I introduce myself? What do I say? Do I tell him that his book A New Kind of Christian is what kept me from completely giving up hope on the church? Erring on the side of caution, I said nothing. Instead I smiled. He smiled back. I recognized him, and he knew I recognized him, and that was sufficient for that day. But I still wish I would have said something.
Here’s the problem – what do you say to one of the few public figures whom God has used to transform your life? Should I have told Derek that I Repent challenged me to move into the inner-city, convicts me of my sins of distrust and consumerism, and has given me encouragement in marriage? Should I have told him about the time I cried while driving to Northmont and listening to This Too Shall Be Made Right, or that there are days when A Love Stronger Than Our Fear can lift me out of depression and inspire me in ministry? Or should I have told him that one of the most powerful moments of grace I’ve ever experienced was while sitting outside on the CU campus, listening to Wedding Dress?
I probably didn’t need to tell him those things, but they are true, as are the messages in Derek’s music and in Brian’s books and in the lives and work of others whom God uses to speak to us. But ultimately, the truth in these songs and books comes not from the writers themselves, but from Jesus. The heroes in my life are those in whom I’ve seen the image of Jesus and who have challenged me to be more conformed to the way of Jesus. That’s why they don’t need to hear all this adulation; instead they need to hear that we are grateful for their faithfulness and pray it will continue. And for that I praise God and pray that he will continue the good work he has begun and will continue to do through the witness of such bold followers of Christ.