If you've read this blog in the past, then you're probably figured out that my favorite theologians are not necessarily known as "theologians." John Calvin, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, John & Charles Wesley, and many others do have their places on the bookshelf and in the mind. But theology, which literally means "God talk," is clearest to me in the words of musicians that are not in the "Christian" section of the store.
Paul Thorn is one such theologian. A native of Tupelo, Mississippi, and the son of Pentecostal ministers, he has recorded music classified as rocks, blues, country, and gospel. He is a storyteller whose lyrics often include God as a character. Though he is vocal about not buying into everything that he learned in his "Christian" upbringing, his art is very "Christ-like."
While he has many songs that I could describe as "the gospel," the one that has most resonated with me this week has been "I Hope I'm Doing This Right," from the 2010 album, Pimps and Preachers. Here is an excerpt:
Sometimes I wonder how I made it this far,
I've won some trophies, and I wear some ugly scars.
Before I go to bed, I kneel and pray every night.
I wonder if God's proud of me.
I hope I'm doing this right
The more I learn, the less I know.
The more I change, the more I grow.
I pray the road I'm traveling on
Will lead me to the light.
God, I hope I'm doing this right. *
It is not only a prayer, but it's a great prayer. Think for a moment about what makes a prayer great. Anne Lamott, in her soon-to-be released book, argues that the three most essential prayers are "Help, Thanks, and Wow." I would add to that list of one-word prayers this six-letter expression by Paul Thorn. What makes these prayers powerful is not just their simplicity but also their applicability to so many aspects of life. "I Hope I'm Doing This Right" is what I can pray before stepping into the pulpit on Sunday mornings as well as when I'm trying to re-pot plants on Saturday afternoons (neither of my thumbs are green, so this prayer is quite necessary at those times!). It's a prayer of both confession and petition. It acknowledges God's greatness and humanity's need for grace. It is great because it recognizes who God is, who we are, and who we are to God as beloved children. A great prayer is a genuine prayer.
This upcoming Sunday at St. Luke UMC and Shipman Chapel, we will conclude our September sermon series on sin (how's that for alliteration?). We may not sing Paul Thorn's prayer in worship, but this preacher will certainly draw from the gospel of an album called Pimps & Preachers. Will you join me in accessing God's greatness with our genuineness?
all good things to each of you,
If you would like to hear the story behind "I Hope I'm Doing This Right," click here for the YouTube video in which Paul Thorn shares his inspiration for our "prayer."
* Perpetual Obscurity Records, www.paulthorn.com