I used to joke that I wanted to die in a blaze of glory. Like, a literal blaze of glory, Denethor II style, minus the context of being a terrible person and the irony of the “blaze of glory” in fact being shameful. But somehow that always appealed to me. Like people would see that and say “I don’t know what just happened, but that guy’s dead and, from the looks of it, he led a pretty exciting life.”
I have since changed my view. I don’t really know how I’d “like” to die anymore. I’ve decided not to commit a lot of thought to it, partially because I don’t imagine it’s a scenario in which I’m going to have a lot of say.
All that being said, I want to tell you about the day I almost died.
It was December 6th, 2013. It was the day I’d been waiting for since early October. Today was the day of Yeezus Tour. Unfortunately, the claws of winter had stretched out over the fair land of Abilene overnight, resulting in a slick glaze of ice that blanketed the roads and buildings all over the city. I texted my friends with whom I’d planned to share this experience. With this sort of wintry weather all across the state, surely Kanye had cancelled or postponed the show! No. The show was still on.
So we would still drive out to see it.
As a lifelong Texan, there are two things I fear intrinsically. The first is that when I come out of school in the afternoon, I will find that someone has unhitched and ridden away on my horse which I use to travel to and from my education establishment. And the second is driving in snow and ice because the only time I see those things is in cone and cream forms, respectively.
But I had already bought tickets. More importantly, I had my friend’s ticket, so I was obligated to get there, if only so he could see it, too. And even more importantly, come on: it was Yeezy we were talking about.
One thing I learned very quickly was that everything I’d ever heard and feared about icy roads was totally justified and accurate. After de-icing my car, I swiveled out of the glassy parking lot of my dorm, filled up at a gas station, and proceeded to slide across the road, trying to brake for a red light. Luckily, I was one of only about a dozen idiotic souls in Abilene who decided to brave the elements, so running the red only mattered on a basic level of my traffic-based morals.
The majority of the trip can be summed up with the words “20 mph” and “bumpy.” So when did I almost die? I’ll tell you all three in the order in in which they happened.
As I was passing through my hometown of Arlington, there was a stretch of highway at a steep incline. And of course, the traffic was on the other side of that incline, stopping everyone on the hill. On the icy hill. And as my turn came to accelerate to try and push past the peak of said icy hill, I found that I was fishtailing. Once again.
The problem with this fishtail is that it began to carry me into the side of a semi truck’s trailer. And as I jostled the wheel and watched through my passenger-side window, the trailer coming ever closer, I saw that the truck, too, was beginning to attempt its ascent. This would be a problem if I continued this path as I would find myself under the trailer, and directly in front of the wheels.
Fortunately, I met a patch of bare asphalt, caught myself, and made it up the hill.
The next time, a similar thing happened. This one was less life-threatening and more just nearly demoralizing. I began to fishtail again as I was in the far left lane, though I didn’t move forward, I only moved sideways, and I was doing so into the side of a parked police cruiser. Again, though, I was miraculously able to find traction and narrowly missed sideswiping that symbol of the law.
The most legitimate threat came when I thought I was home free. Not realizing there was ice on this bridge (there had been a considerable stretch with little to no ice), I made my way through the dark at a moderate pace, just faster than the 20 mph that had been typical of that day. And then I began to feel that telltale swerve in the back of my car.
And it did not stop.
I had the bridge to myself, but as I’d been in the right lane, I felt my heart drop into my stomach as I now found myself sliding sideways through to the left lane. And as my headlights swiveled with me, I saw the concrete barrier come near.me and pass, no exaggeration, only maybe a foot in front of me as I continued to spin 360 degrees, and then another 180 as I braked to a halt and found myself facing another car coming down the bridge. Luckily, they were able to stop in time for me to reverse some, correct my direction, and continue on.
But it still stands that I could have, maybe should have, gone through that concrete barrier.
And then on the way back the next day, I may or may not have almost rolled over in a ditch when almost the exact same thing happened. Spoilers: it was the “may have” option.
So why did I go into all that long and unnecessary detail about my arduous journey?
Because when I got to the concert, it all seemed worth it. And maybe that’s just because I’m young and still convinced I’m invincible despite knowing I’m not, but when I was jamming to all the songs I know and love, all that tribulation seemed worth it.
Growing up in the Church of Christ has instilled a few notions about worship in me. There are things that “should” or “shouldn’t” be done in worship. And we’re all taught from a young age that worship isn’t just singing to God on Sunday morning, but that we should worship God with all of our lives.
One of my best friends was telling me that he and his worship minister talk about worship and concerts together a lot. Like how people lose their mind and have the time of their life at a Coldplay (or Kanye) concert, but then show up on Sunday morning and almost drone on because that’s what they’re there to do. And I think that’s an interesting thought on several levels.
And I think there’s a lot that could be said on either side of that argument. Heck, take that away and there’s still an argument that’s been going on forever about instruments even being used in worship.
That’s not what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about the fact that I was willing to literally risk life and limb to go see Kanye West spit mad flow for two hours, but I am almost certain that I wouldn’t do the same to go to church.
I used to get vaguely annoyed at those T-shirts that had a cross on them and said “this shirt is illegal in (x-numbered) countries.” Maybe I was just being cynical about it, but it always seemed like one of those “so what?” moments. I understand it was supposed to make you feel grateful and everything for being able to practice your religion in America, but then that made me wonder about the abrasive, grungy font and cross design. The message to me always ended up being either “look how oppressed Christianity is” or “look how edgy I am to where this shirt in a place where I’m allowed to.” The notion of danger in Christianity, especially as an American Christian, has never really resonated with me. But it’s part of the job, isn’t it? That’s what we teach, at least, and that’s what we see from history.
So I wonder how aware we are of the lines we’ll cross in the name of the Gospel. I know I found mine that day. And it hit me hard and convicted me.
I simply don’t get as excited about worship as I did at that Kanye concert. And there are several reasons for that, I think, but none of those are really important. What is important is the realization that came with that.
I think there’s something missing from the way I worship. I think there’s something missing from the way a lot of us do.
And, appropriately, I think I’ve pinned it in a Kanye lyric, one that you’ve been reading half of with the title of each of these parts:
Throw your diamonds in the sky if you feel the vibe,
The Roc is still alive every time I rhyme.
Kanye’s “Roc” is referring to Roc-a-Fella. He’s representing his label.
But when you hear it, all you hear is “rock.” So here’s a reminder I know I need daily.
The Rock is still alive. And when we worship, we’re celebrating that, we’re representing that, we’re leaning our lives on that. So to complete this extended metaphor, “throwing your diamonds in the sky” is a lot like worshiping. You’re expressing your representation, your joy, your dependence. And what is that representation and dependence based on? A simple truth: that the source of that is still alive. That God is still living out through each of us every day.
When we worship, we’re surrendering ourselves. We submit and become less to praise the God who is so much more and promises the same to us.
So when I go to worship, I try not to see it as just another thing to do. I try to see it as a thing I am, the thing I am. And that is so hard sometimes. But it’s the truth. Because we are how the Rock lives on.
We are the light of the world. We are the diamonds in the sky. How else are we going to show the world that the Rock is still alive?