Hey Bruce, play Amazing Grace!

One thing that Bruce, my co-worker prides himself on, in addition to being a jerk, is his jaded attitude toward religion. It became a struggle for us. One that, at the time of this writing, we called a draw. I don’t “preach” at him; he doesn’t belittle me. Over the course of our rides together, after his negative feelings toward religion were evident, Bruce revealed that he had played the piano as a kid. Which was interesting. Then again, most children, at some point, are forced to learn an instrument. Mine was the clarinet. I didn’t hate it, for the record. But I had no aspirations to become the next Benny Goodman. I forgot about his skills as a pianist for a while. Then somehow it came up again at a school with a piano.

“I only remember one song on the piano,” he said in an offhand way, while we set up our equipment.

“Oh, what’s that?” I asked, as I unfolded my carpet and reached for the duct tape.

“You’ll laugh.”

I stopped setting up, mentally running through a list of songs from his childhood that would laugh at. I came up with nothing and gave him a quizzical look.

“‘Amazing Grace’ is the only song I can still play,” he admitted sheepishly.

I didn’t laugh. Instead, I filed it away in my mind and every time we found ourselves in a school with a  piano, I asked him to play. And every time, he refused or we didn’t have time or the piano was locked or something.

But one day, at my former high school, we had time. We had time because we were waiting for custodians that never showed up, but that’s another story. A grand piano sat down below the stage, unlocked. “Play ‘Amazing Grace.’”

“No.”

“Please.”

“No,” he laughed.

“Pleeeease.”

“The best time would have been when that kid was playing it on the French horn, if I was going to play it at all.”

“Pleeeeeeeease.”

“Ok, fine. But we’re playing a duet. Use that one up there.”

“I can’t play. I don’t play the piano. You do.”

“What do you mean? Everyone can play ‘Amazing Grace.’”

“I can’t.”

“Well, you’re going to learn.”

He sat down at the piano and punched out the melody. I sat on the stage and smiled. As he stumbled over the keys, he half-sang, half-said the words to the song. “A-maz-ing… grace. How…hmmm… the…. Hmmm…” As he hit a wrong note he would shake his head and start again. When he made it through the entire thing, he said, “Sit down. Your turn.” I was somewhat recalcitrant to do so. I am… insecure at best and learning new things in front of people, especially people like Bruce, whom I respect greatly, makes me feel anxious.

Nevertheless, obediently, I sat. I pecked at each of the keys that he indicated, often reaching for the wrong one, turning to him and questioning which spot my finger was supposed to land on. He patiently pointed at each key as necessary while I continued to stumble over the simplest of melodies. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t mock. He just taught. I memorized every second. Eventually, I got frustrated and quit.

We looked at the time. It was four and time to go home. We packed up and loaded up the van.

“Hey Bruce, just so you know, I’m going to write about this.”

“What?”

“You playing the piano… and teaching me.” I smiled, recalling the patience he exhibited as I played.

“You can only put it in the book if you learn to play ‘Amazing Grace.’”

“Ok, I’ll do it tonight. We have an old keyboard laying around the house somewhere. I’ll record it on my cell phone and send it to you.”

“Sounds good,” he laughed, shaking his head.

“Have a good night, Bruce. See you again someday.”

I went home that night and found the keyboard. I delayed dinner, even though all I had eaten was an apple, and learned ‘Amazing Grace.’ And when I had it down well enough to not make a mistake every other note, I took a video on my phone and sent it to him

You know how songs get stuck in your head? Well, this one did. Over and over again over the next few days it replayed in my head, along with the memory of learning the song.

And every time I was at church, some form of the song was sung, whether it was the original or one of the innumerable versions of it that contemporary artists had written. And that made me think that it was entirely possible that I was supposed to be “getting” something out of all this. So… I spent some time thinking and praying… grace… grace… grace… Ok, grace. You forgive me. All the time. No matter what I do. Except for when I do that same thing over and… no grace. But really, even… that? Even when I continually commit the same sin? Really, there’s an app for, I mean, there’s grace for… that?

I think that my favorite version of Amazing Grace is Chris Tomlin’s, “My Chains are Gone.” The chorus goes a little something like this:

My chains are gone

I’ve been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me

And like a flood His mercy reigns

Unending love, Amazing grace

I’ve been set free, no matter what the sin, no matter what the struggle, God’s plan for me is to be set free from the sin that has enslaved me, beset me, dragged me through the mud. I’ve been chewing on Romans 6 lately, well, 6-8 or so anyway. And these verses really strike me in light of the song:

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

~Romans 6:20-22

That’s really all I have to say about it…

Lord, I can’t ask you for more grace because you’ve already given everything for me and more than I could possibly imagine. Help me to know your grace daily. Help me to bask in the freedom that you’ve given me, delight in my salvation, glory in the fact that You are the one I owe everything to, the one I want to be a slave for. Amen.

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