In Nashville, Gospel Music Association Week can be a bit of a circus. For the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in it, which has been a bittersweet occasion. While it’s been great to get to see a free Switchfoot show and hang out with bands like downhere, it also reminds me of all the things about Christian subculture that I disdain. Every once in awhile, though, I experience something that reminds that there is hope … even for Christian music.
Several months ago during this year’s GMA Week, I was having an exhausting day of listening to regurgitated rhetoric and Christian clichés. I was tired and ready to go home to see my wife. I only had one more interview to survive before I could escape the Jesus merchandise and paraphernalia that was beginning to overwhelm me. That afternoon, my final meeting was with a band called 1000 Generations.
This down-to-earth four-piece sounded like a mix of Sixpence None the Richer and Third Eye Blind (with a touch of a less-vulgar Ben Folds, for style). This isn’t a review of their music, however. What amazed me most (and still amazes me) about the band was their authenticity and earnest desire to serve whomever they met, wherever they were.
At these types of gatherings, it’s not unlikely to encounter a lot of ego and bravado … yes, even amongst Christian celebrities. While I’m sure that there is a great deal of pressure on faith-based musicians to really prove themselves as “real” artists, it doesn’t give them an excuse to act like jerks, which they sometimes do. The fact that 1000 Generations isn’t looking to be Christian rock stars is, in itself, refreshing. But the fact that they regularly take the time to get to know the people they come across is quite stunning.
In an age when much of western Christendom is compromising its ideal of “being in the world, but not of it” for an opportunity to ascend the stage of stardom, groups like 1000 Generations are hard to come by. Their song “How Big Small Can Be” epitomizes who they are and what a practical response to world-wide injustices might look like. Again, this isn’t a column about their musicianship, but rather about their character and message. The opening stanza to the aforementioned song goes like this: “My hands cannot hold the world / But they can help someone in need / And my cash could never end hunger / But it will help someone to eat.” Their point is that sometimes the needs of the world are so overwhelming that we are rendered inactive by the sheer enormity of opportunities to meet such needs. Their response reminds us of how meaningful a simple gesture of sharing one’s food with the hungry or taking off a coat to clothe the naked can be.
Like most Christian bands these days, 1000 Generations has a social justice cause that they regularly support, and that’s admirable. Yet, what struck me most about this group was not a nonprofit link at the bottom of their website, nor was it an American Apparel V-neck with an outline of Africa worn by the lead singer. Rather, what really stood out to me was the group’s genuinely humble and caring demeanor. They were kind, thoughtful, and engaging. In addition to answering my questions, they returned with their own informal interview. They asked about my job, my wife and what life as newlyweds was like for us in Tennessee. When we finished the interview, they offered to pray for me. A week after meeting them, they sent me a handwritten “thank-you” card. The whole experience caught me a little off-guard. I’ve interviewed plenty of Christian bands and artists before and never received such personal attention. I’m not so sure that 1000 Generations will make it as Christian celebrities, but I’m also not so sure that they want to be.
The interview stuck with me for weeks afterwards, because it reminded me of what Jesus told his disciples to help cure their warped view of God’s economy. He turned everything upside-down for them, saying that the me-firsts would end up last in line, that little children would inherit a powerful kingdom and that the least and left-out would find themselves stuffed at banquet feasts. If you ask me, those are scandalous ideas even today—along the same lines as “how big small can be.”
Much to my chagrin, I secretly desire fame, fortune, and recognition. I don’t want small. I want big. The irony is that in ignoring the small things, I often miss out on some of the biggest things in the universe – namely, the opportunity to join God in his redemptive mission on earth. Like the Levite in Luke 10, I’m often on my way to a Christian concert, worship service or GMA event, passing right by those who are lying in the gutter, hurting. My wife often reminds me that one big gesture requiring months of thoughtful planning doesn’t make up for 10 small ones played out each and every day.
I know how big small can be, because I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes. I’ve seen a simple story told over and over again save a woman from homelessness in a manner of weeks. I’ve seen $11 restore tangible hope in a wandering vagrant’s life. I’ve seen a handful of presents placed beneath a plastic Christmas tree serve as a Gospel presentation for an inner-city family who didn’t think Santa was coming that year.
Maybe some of the biggest things we can do are actually quite small. Maybe love, as God would have us share it, isn’t as grandiose as a light show, but as simple as a smile or thank-you note. Maybe we have over-complicated and theologized stories like the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats to the point that we have forgotten how to love well. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, if we give everything we have to the poor and die as martyrs, but don’t have love, we gain nothing (1 Cor. 13: 3).
May we learn today how big small can be by volunteering to be last, by changing something—anything—that is within our grasp to change, and by paying attention to someone we’d rather ignore. And may we do it all with love, letting God sort out what is truly big and what is small.
If you’re dubious of how big small can be, check out the following websites:
Small Can Be Big—Small Can Be Big networks with local charities that help families in need. A donation of $3 or $300 can help keep a single mother from losing her car or a family from being evicted during an economic crisis.
Kiva—Kiva offers “loans that change lives” for startup business and entrepreneurs in the developing world. $25 can help start a general store in Afghanistan or provide enough capital for a family in Mali to grow peanuts.
Gospel for Asia (GFA)—Gospel for Asia sends 100% of its donations out to the field to help hard-working (and underpaid) native missionaries in Asia (particularly, India). When $4 can buy eight New Testaments for people like the Sri Lankan woman who lost her husband in the 2004 tsunami, small can be huge.
How else can small be big?