He was young, maybe twelve. His home was what some call 'broken' and a childhood accident left him scarred literally and figuratively. He walked everywhere, just him and his dog. He was always much more comfortable with adults than kids his own age. And he loved pickups and trains. I liked him.
The church I pastored at the time celebrated every fifth Sunday evening by having a sanging...yes, that's spelled correctly. It was basically open mic night at church...a sorta non-closed communion where bread and juice took a backseat to the human voice...all were welcome. There were the regulars - quartets, duets, solos - they gave the people what they wanted to hear...Little Is Much When God Is In It...Have a Little Talk With Jesus...I'll Fly Away. And then there was the occasional shy soul who no doubt sat and watched the others for years thinking lord I'd like to do that someday and for some reason, nobody knows, he or she finally screws up enough courage to sign their name to the clipboard list and stand before the casual crowd and give it their all. One Sunday night, he signed up. He told me earlier he had decided to sing and his song selection...I approved of both.
Some folks were surprised when his name was announced. He stood and handed his cassette accompaniment tape to the soundman and walked up to the microphone positioned just behind the table with the etched words do this in remembrance. If memory serves me, the song prior to his was a Sandi Patti anthem, a goose-pimpling affirmation of faith with a key change near the end rounded by a full court press to the final orchestrated grace note...a true gift of gold, frankincense, myrrh. Angels probably dabbed their eyes and said yes, yes.
And in that wake, the little drummer boy played.
I don't know if you've ever heard Joe Diffie's Pickup Man, but that evening, in Dolby sound, we did:
"I met all my wives in traffic jams/
There's just something women like about a pickup man."
I sat on the backrow and watched folks squirm and blush...I'm sure a few thought hell itself was gonna open its jaws and swallow us all, me first. Several cut their eyes at the pastor throughout the song, that you can stop this look. But I didn't. He and Joe sang it to the end, to the final two words - "that's right."
I don't know what you believe about God and the Church and all that, but here's what I think. Once upon a night, years ago, in a south Arkansas gathering, a quiet boy without a dad stood before those who'd been knowing him for years and sang from an ember deep in his life called desire. I believe on a higher plane than Arkansas some of the angels began to squirm and blush and shake their heads no, no. But then there were shouts of let me through! let me through! as the man of sorrows elbowed his way across the angelic throng, to the very edge of the heaven itself and he raised his nail-scarred wrists and thundered be still...he's singing! can't you hear him? he's singing! And a grin the size of salvation broke across our hero's face as he leaned in and listened to the rum-pa-Joe-Diffie-pum-pum of a shadowed little boy struggling toward the light, toward life, toward love. I believe Jesus listened all the way to the end, finally saying yes, yes.