Archive | December, 2013

Trying to Tell You Something about my Life

26 Dec

If you don’t know what to make of this then we will not relate.  When I heard those words I knew this was going to work out.  I had asked students to send me songs for a sermon series and this gem of a line came from Rivers and Roads by The Head and The Heart.  It underscored perfectly the whole reason for the series.

I came up with the series idea when I was driving along listening to music instead of news for once.  It was the kind of day when the wind whips through the open window just so and no matter how achy you are or how full your calendar, you are transported.  The song playing reminds you of that time at the beach late at night when you were finally alone…or the last free summer before “the real world”…or some other magical moment immediately and viscerally called up with just a few strums of the guitar and that familiar vocal.  Suddenly you can feel where and who and how you were back then.  Music is a wonder that way.

For me, one of those tunes is the Indigo Girls’ Closer to Fine.  Amy, Emily, and this song have traveled with me through many years, stages, and places.  But I every time I hear it I can remember singing I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was free, while still yearning for that paper.  For a certain group of my friends and countless others from my generation, that song is emblematic, galvanizing, community-making.  Name this song to one of us and we’ll tell you about the first Indigo Girls concert or where we were when that album came out.  With its iconic first line – I’m trying to tell you something about my life – the confession and the invitation begin.

It got me thinking:  I wonder what those songs are for my students.

So I asked them to send me songs.  Here’s the request I sent out:  I want to preach about the songs that say something about YOUR life, the ones you would say “listen to this” if you wanted someone to understand you.  They can be songs that speak to you, describe you, capture something profound about life/love/God…they can be the songs that make you happy no matter what kind of mood you are in, the ones you love to wake up to or find on the radio.

I started in January for a sermon series planned for April.  I needed time to get to know the songs and pick the ones I’d actually use for the series.  Before our spring break service trip my husband corralled them into an iTunes playlist for my phone so I could listen on the long drive.  My first surprise (and relief) came on that drive as I listened to the music with the students riding in my car – no one knew all the songs.  I had thought I’d be the one who had to catch up with them but in today’s diverse and scattered music scene, they didn’t entirely know one another’s music either.

After repeated listening I narrowed it down from about 30 songs to about eight for the 3-week series.  Purposely leaving out praise music or other music labeled as “Christian” (I wasn’t looking for the “right” answer), I grouped them into somewhat thematic weeks and shared the picks in advance with my music team, so they could learn and play some of them during worship.  The music team reveled in this and so did everyone else.  Hearing their own and each other’s favorite songs – non-churchy and sometimes explicit music – sung as part of worship was energizing and empowering.  They were eager to hear the Word in conversation with the words of their music.  I knew I would learn more about my students.  I didn’t anticipate how much they would learn about one another – they even sang some of the sermon series songs together during beach week at the end of the semester.  

I am not a fan of gimmicky church tricks or sermon series for the sake of series.  I think the reason this one worked is I genuinely wanted to hear and learn and know more about my students.  I used their songs as the primary texts for the sermon (though I also used a scripture passage each week) – not as a cute introduction to what I really wanted to say about a predetermined passage but as worthy places to discover how God is speaking to us.  In real life.  In real, non-churchy music.  And in the real, in-progress lives of college students who are trying to tell us something about their lives and trying to hear how God talks back.


Deborah LewisDeborah loves hiking, cooking, reading, and a good strong cup of coffee. She believes that a rainy day is one of God’s great gifts and that When Harry Met Sally can never be seen or quoted too many times.  She is an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Virginia.  She has been in campus ministry for 12 years and shares the journey with her husband and stepson.  You can find pictures of her pottery and links to other writing at