And over the years that's the only guitar playing I did. Playing and singing at home, mostly gospel hymns and Johnny Cash songs. "I'll Fly Away" and "Folsom Prison Blues." That's how I fed my soul.
This last spring Michael, the praise band leader at Freedom Fellowship, called to ask if I'd step in at the last minute to lead worship at Freedom. Michael knew I lead hymns out at the prison on Monday nights, and while Freedom usually worships with a praise band, Michael thought that it would be a nice change of pace for me to lead a old fashioned hymn sing.
I agreed. But since I played all those hymns with my guitar I brought that along. I lead worship that night with my guitar and it went well enough that Michael asked me once more to lead worship when a lot of the praise band members couldn't make it one Wednesday night.
I really enjoyed leading worship those nights. Most old gospel hymns are easy to play. Three simple chords can get you through a ton of songs.
And then this week happened.
All the lead acoustic guitarists who play for Michael couldn't make it this week. So Michael called to see if I wanted to try to join the band. I was hesitant. I'd never played with a band. And my guitar skills are pretty limited. But Michael encouraged me and on Tuesday night I plugged in my guitar to practice with the band for the Wednesday night service.
I learned a ton that night, and Michael, Herb, Val and Lucas were so, so encouraging. That's what I love about Freedom. It's not the quality of the performance that matters, it's the spirit in which it is offered. Truly. I've never experienced anything like worship at Freedom. I've never, in all my years at Freedom, heard anyone, ever, complain or comment on the quality of the praise band. Quality of performance is simply not on anyone's radar screen. "Good" versus "bad" is just not a filter we use.
All that to say, I knew, if I was ever going to be a part of a praise band, Freedom would be, I'm guessing, one of the only churches were that could happen. A church where I could mess up and literally no--absolutely no one---one would notice, care or comment.
And so this last Wednesday I played guitar in the Freedom praise band. And because it was Freedom I wasn't nervous in the least. Yes, I messed up a few times--like starting in on a song forgetting that I needed to put the capo on--but all I got from the band and the congregation was encouragement and gratitude.
I did the best I could, served as best I could. We played our guitars, waved our flags, thumped our tambourines, clapped our hands and sang out loud.