Late last night I finally got to see my favorite heavy metal band, Silent Planet. The thing which has drawn me to them has not been the brutality of their sound, or the finesse of their song construction, but the lyrics which are carried by these vessels. I learned last night that the vocalist (screamer) went to Fuller Seminary and goes barefoot everywhere (Much like one of my other musical heroes, Rich Mullins). He has a huge heart for people and for justice and it shows in every line of their songs.
This post, however, is not just an ode to their musical and literary genius, but about my experience last night.
The show went beautifully, as expected. Garrett, the vocalist, announced to us at the outset that it was their 51st of 51 shows on their tour, so his throat was understandably shot. At one point, his voice even cracked mid-scream which was hilarious but you also felt bad for him like watching a puppy fall down the stairs.
He dangled from the ceiling, the crowd moshed violently, and all things went as expected. The thing which stood out to me, however, was what happened after the show.
Garrett had announced that the band would be available to hang out with following the set, so I expected the typical ‘hang out’ where the cool band members are thronged by the fans.
I went to buy a tank top to support the band, and when I came back to the stage area where the band was, I found a line had formed to Garrett, the vocalist. I joined a few friends in line and after a minute of observing what was happening, it felt borderline cultish. The fact that Garrett had long hair and was barefoot didn’t help either.
The line was just to see him; the rest of the band seemed like a backup act, and I don’t know where they were. There were dozens of people waiting just to see this long-haired man who had just screamed at us for an hour. As I watched, Garrett would greet each person individually who had stood in line to see him. He gave them a big hug, and these hugs were by no means quick little ‘bro-hugs.’ He held them for several seconds as if they were old friends returning from a long voyage.
Then he would look them in the eye and talk with them. I got the sense that his conversation with each person was unique to the individual and that he genuinely cared for each one.
Keep in mind that he had just screamed and danced around stage for an hour, on top of being on tour for 8 weeks, performing nearly every night, doing the same thing after each show.
He was not in a rush to get through the line, but spoke gently with each person, most of whom had come to congratulate him and tell him what the band’s music meant to them. He closed each brief encounter with another long hug and gratitude.
He made it to my friends and I and I, starstruck, had already rehearsed what I would say to him: “As a seminary student and fan of philosophy and Lewis, your lyrics mean a lot to me.”
He hugged me for a long, gentle time, and then I executed my line.
His eyes lit up, like I was the first person he had spoken to all day. “You’re in seminary?? No way!” he said, genuinely interested. “Did you know I went to seminary?”
We chatted about seminary and theology for a moment, then he paused, thinking about what to say next. It was the sort of pause which reflected authentic interest in what he was about to ask.
“What do you hope to do with that?” he finally asked with unwavering eye contact.
I told him about my books and speaking and pastoring and teaching.
“Wow, man, that’s so great!” he was in no hurry to get to the rest of the line behind me. It was like I was the only one who had come to see him play last night and he was earnestly grateful for my being there. I handed him a copy of The New Lonely, we took a selfie, hugged again, and he moved on to the rest of the line.
Now, did I write all this up just to be a slobbering fanboy at a metal show? Only partly.
Mainly, I wanted to communicate something I was reminded of last night with Garrett. Our interaction could not have been more than one minute, yet he left a lasting impression on me which hearkened many things I wish to be true of myself. As a human being, but especially as a Christian, my minute with the prophet illuminated many things.
Presence. In big cities (or anywhere?), unless I was important, people blew me off because I could not help them get ahead. Especially in Los Angeles (which, ironically, is where Silent Planet is from), once people learn your ‘numbers’ (of followers, etc) they will just blow you off and buzz to someone else more successful. Garrett was not in a hurry to get to the rest of the line, much less his van where he could lie down. He was fully invested in the person before him, making each one of us feel special and cared for. If Christians could be more like this, perhaps we could reflect to the world the truth that they are cared for, both by us and by God. Jesus also had time for everyone who came to Him. He paused to speak to an unclean sick woman rather than rushing off to ‘important’ people. I can’t help but wonder if God is more pleased the more time we spend with the unimportant, the outcast, the unclean, et al. After all, that’s the example He set…
Humility. Many celebrities will simply bask in the praise of their adoring fans and make their meet-and-greets quick just to get it over with. Garrett, despite having just played an amazing set for us and wowing us with his skill, seemed to brush off our compliments in favor of getting to know us. One of the friends I was with is a drummer, who praised Garrett’s musical writing ability. Garrett thanked him, but quickly changed the subject to what was going on in his life. He then hugged my friend and spent half a minute whispering something into his ear, nearly bringing my friend to tears. Like Jesus and the woman at the well, He forewent all the fluffy talk of fame and cut to the heart of what was happening in our lives.
Love. Historically, the church has a reputation for turning people away rather than drawing them in. I just got off the phone with someone asking me to lead a Bible study at a nursing home, specifically because the Catholic priest who comes in to lead the Catholic study doesn’t let non-Catholics take communion with him. This seems to be a microcosm of Christianity (or at least how we are often perceived) in the world. Silent Planet has a history of speaking against racism, homophobia, injustice, et al. They don’t just speak about it in their lyrics, but they live it out at their shows. It didn’t matter if Garrett was speaking to someone gay, black, jock, shy, tattooed, homeschooled, or any other external accident. He seemed to want to cut through these things and just spend a moment with the person, encouraging them and being with them. If more Christians could figure out how to embody this, I have no doubt we would become the unstoppable force of love Jesus envisioned in the New Testament.
Jesus is described as being full of grace and truth. Last night, I was encouraged to meet someone who also sought these things: truth through his brilliant, philosophically and theologically robust lyrics; and grace through the force of his presence. It made me want to be that kind of Christian: embodying both and using them as a means of expanding God’s kingdom and welcoming people into it with open arms.