REVELATIONS: 'I was saved by this'
When I woke Saturday morning, I had no plan for the day.
It was the first day in many weeks - maybe longer - there was nothing on my to-do list.
I was content staying home, watching "Game of Thrones" and doing laundry.
But then a friend texted me, asking me what my plan was for the day.
A few back-and-forth texts later, I finally said, "If there's live music playing somewhere tonight, I think we should find it."
Two hours later, we were on the road to Austin - driving into the international hurricane of South by Southwest.
We walked around Austin's famed 6th Street searching for what we thought would be the best place to land for a drink and good - no, make that great - live music.
Two stops later, we landed in Rusty's on East 7th Street, where The Outlaw Roadshow was busy showcasing some of the nation's best up-and-comers. Each band was better than the last. And each of them, I thought, could easily be picked up by a big-name record label. These bands were ready. They were good. No, they were great.
The Outlaw Roadshow was organized by Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz and Ryan Spalding, of Ryan's Smashing Life.
Duritz, I noticed, was busy walking from stage to stage, snapping photos on his iPhone and updating Twitter - sometimes blocking my view of the stage with his trademark Afro-dreads coif.
But I wasn't really paying attention to him. I wanted to hear the music. We'd driven two hours, after all, to hear the music.
About two hours into the show, I looked up at one of the performers, Roem Baur, a singer-songwriter from San Francisco, and realized this man's talent was nothing short of hypnotizing.
Unbelievable talent echoed from his lips and guitar strings.
I couldn't help but feel moved.
I couldn't help but feel God.
If I wasn't standing there breathing in the aroma of cigarettes and beer, I could have likened my live-band-hypnosis to that of a Sunday night church worship.
For me, it was that ethereal.
Somehow, my mind drifted from Baur's performance, and for a moment, I recalled a conversation I had about two years ago with a reader. He'd called to lecture me about the evils of rock music and dancing. No doubt I'd written on the subject, drawing parallels to Jesus and Christianity, and this man was calling me up in an attempt to save my soul.
But as I listened to Baur, all I could think about was how wrong that man was, and how restricted he must be in his faith, looking at life through those thick Westernized, Americanized, Texas-Christian goggles.
I wanted the man to be there next to me, so I could point to Baur's performance and the people swaying and dancing in the crowd and ask, "How can you believe this music is evil? How can you believe Baur's talents aren't God-given? How could God not be pleased by this?"
Sure, Baur's music didn't mention God, church or praising Jesus. But at least he had the gumption to get up on stage and use the talents he'd been gifted with.
How often does the general public do that, I thought.
After I finished battling the man's voice in my head, I returned my focus to Baur. I was reminded how strongly I believe God must be the most incredible musician (or, at the very least, a bona fide, worldwide, lighter-holding music fan). In my mind, God would be pleased to see any of his creation using their talents and gifts to make others smile.
I met up with Baur after his set and let him know how much I enjoyed his performance. I also told him I was a writer, who sometimes writes about religion.
And at some point in the conversation, I let him know I thought his set was almost, well, spiritual.
I was pleased to discover that Baur, who grew up Southern Baptist, had his musical start in the church. Using his talents for the church and in the church, he desired in his 20s to become a music minister, he said.
He'd played the church worship scene in California's Central Valley for many years, filling the pews by the hundreds with his four-octave range and delicate force on the stage. But after too many occasions wrestling with Christian clergy and others accusing him of performing "devil music" with selfish, fame-seeking intentions, Baur slowly backed away from the church. He eventually gave up his desire to be a music minister.
"Time and time again, I got burned by the churches," he said. "I never felt rejected by God or Christ. I felt rejected by the church."
Baur said as soon as he stopped looking for his place in the church, many career-launching doors began to open.
"I was saved by this," he said, his eyes and hands gesturing to the music venue encircling us.
Baur, who still considers himself a Christian, disclosed that once he allowed himself to step away from the restrictions of cultural Christianity, he was able to find total freedom in song writing - the ultimate form of worship, he said. For the first time, he was writing and worshiping unrestricted.
"I've always written from a place that's very deep inside me. It scares me to death to write this music sometimes. ... But it makes me realize there is a God, and he still gives a s--- about me," he said.
Like his music and stage performance, Baur's thoughts about God and Christianity that night were real and unguarded, and I felt privileged to participate in such a rare and unexpected spiritual dialogue.
Years later, it seems Baur has found a new kind of church and a new method for worship. It's not the sort he envisioned years ago. But maybe for him, it's a better path.
"It's my version of Christianity. It's doing what's right; it's loving people," he said. "I'm doing it out of gratitude, and I'm thankful I can do this every day and that I can do it using my God-given gifts."
Days later, I'm still reflecting on our conversation, wondering what would happen if a few more church members were radical enough to think outside their cultural periphery and follow the path their talents will lead them.
I'm also wondering how much more the church might benefit if we accepted a few more unconventional Christians, like Baur, who could remind us all that sometimes the best way to find our true path is to walk away from the traditions of church.
Advocate faith columnist Jennifer Preyss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Revelations column appears on Saturdays.