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The life of a slave

"The life of a slave" Continued...

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

Q: So you have all these influences tugging at you? Tugging is a good word, 'cause we never had the family band: We always fought about music. My brother played blues and my sister has a master's degree in classical organ. So as you can see it was a pretty crazy household.

Q: You mentioned somewhere that as a small boy you saw very little of your father. He came home from practice, closed himself in his study, and you would push drawings and other things under his door to try to get his attention. Did it work? No, it didn't, actually. I wrote a song called "Underneath the Door." I grew up eating supper at 8 o'clock because my mom would wait for my dad. In those days when the father would come home the kids would come to the door and greet him. My kids don't do that with me; they just sort of look up from their video games and say, "Oh, you're home."

Q: You were the designated dad-bringer. My family would always send me to go get my dad, and I had to get his attention somehow, because he was locked away in his study. But he was a phenomenal person, my father. The older I get the more I appreciate him. He was a good man.

Q: That sounds frustrating. It was frustrating. One of my major themes is that you are not your gift, and my father thought he was his gift. He thought that medicine was all he was, so when he was forced to retire he died a few months later. He could not imagine living without being a doctor.

Q: I've read that you became a Christian at age 8. Even then I fought the status quo: They asked, "So you've asked Jesus into your heart?" And even as a little kid I said, "No, He's asked me into His heart." I recognize that the impetus really came from Him and that He was inviting me, and that was big.

Q: And when you were 14 a black Bible teacher became important to you. Yeah, an old woman in our town, who was blind, taught the Bible from memory. She had the whole Bible memorized. Through being exposed to her I just got this bizarre hunger for Scripture. From the time I was 14 up into my 20s I read a book of the Bible a day; I was a total Bible geek. I discovered that if I finished everything by 3 o'clock in the day, I could generally get whatever book I wanted read.

Q: Any book in a day? Philemon was an easy night. Psalms was a little harder. I did that for years and years and could never get enough. So often God gives us gifts and we misuse them. I turned into a Bible-thumper, beating people up with the Bible. I cringe at how I treated people in those days, but God still used it.

Q: In high school you went to school only two or three days a week and spent the rest of the time walking around the mountains? In our school nobody kept track of where I was. I was very serious and not until college did I find anybody who was really serious about learning.

Q: You found Professor Bill Lane at Western Kentucky University. Yes, majoring in forestry. I wanted a job that didn't have anything to do with people. But then I met Bill Lane and everything changed for me.

Q: How did Bill Lane affect you? He was a biblical scholar, pastor of the church I went to, and the life-giver who brought together the puzzle pieces of my life without even knowing he was doing it. He's the person who said, "You know, I think you have gifts for music; I think you should write us a song."

Q: How did he discern that? He used to say, "You can play guitar, you can attract girls with guitars." It was nothing remotely spiritual. But even when I started writing music for his sermons, it wasn't a deeply spiritual experience for me. I was just trying to please Bill. From that I've learned that God even uses our mixed motives. God uses those things, thank goodness, because it's all we've got. He takes our foolishness and our fragileness and does incredible stuff with them. Praise Him for that.

Q: Is the "Christian music industry" healthy? The good news is the industry as we've known it is dying, and the internet and people doing it on a smaller scale is growing. When I was younger you started playing around at local churches and gradually the circle of churches you played in got bigger and bigger. Early on it was a family, and then as the industry rose up the family died. The good news is the family is kicking again. Local artists, playing in your local church: The value of that is coming back. It's weeding out the suckers, too, which is a good thing. The industry doesn't have this promise anymore to make people famous, and that's a good thing.

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