It was surreal. I engaged God. I felt like one very large hypocrite. I felt like I had never known God. God was different in New York. I was learning him all over again. When God said he loved the world I then realized the world was not all white and starchy with lots of rules. The world was dirty and different and I was to be part of it. I was coming out of the closet. I probably was already out of the closet and God was showing a piece of his world that I ignored and self-righteously condemned.
They were singing with a freedom I had not known before. They were singing with joy and with freedom. These were two different things altogether. Sure, one fed the other, but both stood independently of the other as well. What I’m saying here is that it was robust, comprehensive and challenging to my soul. They knew who God was. They had been redeemed and were not shy about saying how much they loved him. They got the power of the gospel and they were on a mission. There was nothing about them that I didn’t like. They loved God and sang to him as a group of freedom loving black people in Christ. It was a joyous thing.
I stepped down from the stage after I told Shannon it was alright and I went to the other side of the hall where the addicts were. I got down among the dirty people with my coat and necktie left behind and I sang like a black Christian. It was a beautiful thing. After the message I stayed down where many folk had gathered and begin serving the broken people who were looking for hope. I stood around for a long time after much of the crowd dispersed and interacted with anyone who wanted to talk. I was personally convicted about my self-righteousness that worked out in constricted living and I was greatly encouraged that God would visit me with the gift of repentance.
It was many years before I would see fuller fruit of what happened that day at the Bowery Mission. I can’t say I’m totally unhooked from fear of man today, but God has done a great work in snapping some of the tethering line that has bound me to Christian tradition over the years. I felt it that day and I never let that feeling go. I savored something that day and it was a very good thing. God was kind to me. It was one of those major mile markers in my Christian experience. I obviously did not know what it all meant on that day. I was caught up in the moment and was working in present-tense-obedience, but upon reflection I see now (and even shortly afterward) that “Aslan was on the move” in my soul and he was about to give me something special. He has and I am very glad. And though all that is very good I am even more aware of how much I need to mature.