A couple of weeks ago, Rik and I had the opportunity to see Tommy Emmanuel, guitar player extraordinaire, in concert. We were amazed at the depth of music that came from one man and a guitar. It sounded like three or four people playing at once. Then, Tommy started a song that was more percussion than strings and suddenly I had a new insight into what we are called to do to be the church in the 21st century.
As I watched that night, I saw three ways Tommy Emmanuel’s music was a metaphor for the church.
First, Tommy Emmanuel used every single part of the guitar and a variety of percussion implements to make music come from that guitar. He played the strings over the sound hole, on the neck, and even between the nut and the tuners. He banged, tapped, and brushed the top, back, and sides of the sound box. He played with the palms of his hands, the backs of his hands, the ring on his finger, his finger nails, and a “brush” usually used on drums. Basically, he used all his resources.
Second, Tommy doesn’t see the guitar the same way as most people. He literally thinks outside of the (sound) box. Most of us look at a guitar and assume that music can be made in the traditional way of strumming or picking the strings. This is true, and this is one way Mr. Emmanuel makes beautiful music. But it is not the only way. He bangs the wood, taps the strings, and creates as much sound with his left hand as he does with his right.
Finally, he wasn’t trying to preserve his guitar. Tommy Emmanuel’s guitar was anything but pristine. It has giant scrape marks where he literally scratches the guitar to make music.
The church can learn much from these guitar lessons. We as the church are called to use all our resources to be the church in our world today. We need to look around and see what we have that can be used in sharing the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ within our communities and beyond. We need to explore resources we might not have thought about in connection with church before. Often we think only of traditional ways of being the church, and fail to consider other ways – out of the box ways – we can be the church to those who are hurting or in need. As long as we continue to try and preserve what the church has been, we cannot move into the potential of what the church can be in this world.