If it’s anything, life is a story.
The narratives we tell ourselves enable us to function in the world by giving us a sense of what came before us and what lies ahead.
Stories inform who we are, why we’re here, what we’re supposed to do, and where we belong in the greater scheme of things.
I’m preaching this Sunday (Happy Season of Epiphany, everybody!), and the gospel text that the revised common lectionary gives me is from John 1.
What a story!
From the lofty, poetic language of the first 18 verses, then the dense family story that unfolds between cousins John and Jesus, the chapter is rich with story.
So in my sermon, part of my job is to give context, and tell part of the backstory and remind the congregation of the story which gives this text its frame of reference.
This is because proclamation of the Word and, in my opinion, any sort of quality teaching, connects most deeply with humans when it is embedded in a story.
Jesus spoke in parables. Children learn fables. Ancient humans developed myths. Every generation has its legends. Modern humans invent their own parallel universe timelines.
Almost everything we’ve learned has come from a story of some sort.
Each person’s understanding of the world came to them piece by piece, story by story.
Story is how we learn, even when we learn experientially, I think. Experience becomes story which we revisit in our minds, and the story morphs in our minds even when we think we’re giving an objective, detailed version of exactly what happened.
So touring for 9 years with Becoming The Archetype and for 4 years with Anchors, and then filling in for other bands like Five Iron Frenzy, I learned a lot by experience, which now comes to this blog (and you) via story. Sometimes I’m not so proud of those experiences.
One such event happened while I was filling in on guitar for Five Iron Frenzy.
Act 1: The Backstory
Five Iron Frenzy was once a great ska band that was one of my favorites in the late 90s and early 2000s. Then they broke up in 2003 and ska was dead and life was intolerable. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then in 2011, after 8 years of death, FIF was resurrected. It was like Easter morning.
They still had horns, but they were more of a “rock band with horns” than they were ska. And it was awesome.
The band members decided to write and record a new album, and to support that new album, they got a spot on tour in 2013 with Reel Big Fish (big 90s ska band with the smash single “Sell Out”). This 3-week tour was right before the new album would be released and it was great for getting that new music into the ears and hearts of listeners around the nation.
Well, the one catch was that Micah, a guitarist, couldn’t leave for 3 weeks. Micah had become a friend of BTA and had come out to a few of our shows whenever we played in the Denver area.
So when FIF was offered this tour, Micah texted me and said “hey man, wanna tour in my spot with Five Iron?”
I told him no.
That last line is a lie.
Act 2: The Setting
So I flew out and practiced. I learned the setlist at our new home in Washington state. I postponed my new Youth Director job at a Lutheran Church for a month.
Finally, the time came for tour and I flew to North Carolina to begin the tour and meet the FIF guys who didn’t live in Denver anymore (they had practiced on their own).
We traveled in this huge bus that had bunk beds (with privacy curtains!), a bathroom, a shower, and a lounge area with couches, a TV, and whatnot. The bus was kinda tall so it would kinda sway when we took corners and things would slide around if they weren’t previously nailed down or endowed with rubber feet.
The shows were great. Reel Big Fish apparently tours all the time, still, every year. And they still have a big draw. Every show had significant turnout and there were tons of RBF fans and plenty of FIF fans, and the other two bands on the tour (Beautiful Bodies and Beebs and Her Money Makers) were a lot of fun and great times were had by all as we one-upped each other with antics on stage and generally had a blast enjoying the touring life.
Occasionally we’d stop at stores while driving between shows and we’d all get out and brush our teeth, buy some food, stretch our legs, etc. Sometimes Reese would find some scheme that could save him lots of money and occasionally (at least once, maybe) those schemes actually worked.
Other times, we’d share snacks or buy coffee mugs to use on the bus (and mark our names on them so we didn’t get them mixed up). This was much cheaper than buying coffee everyday, and we made decent coffee in that little coffee pot on the bus.
Act 3: The Messy Climax
One day, as we were riding to the next show, we were all sitting in the lounge and talking, as human beings tend to do. We’d all had our coffee and things were proceeding pleasantly, as they do when friends enjoy each others’ company.
Then as we entered the city and neared the venue, we took a hard turn in the bus. As we turned, everything that didn’t have rubber feet and wasn’t nailed down slid across the counter tops. Most of the stuff sliding was paper and other innocuous stuff, which didn’t slide far because it’s paper. And it innocuous.
One of the things that slid was a coffee mug.
And it slid off the counter top and right onto Andy’s shoulder and neck (Andy is the drummer).
The coffee mug, sadly, was not empty.
So Andy now has coffee all over his neck and shoulder, and it’s pouring down his shirt. And you could guess by his reaction that Andy did not desire a coffee shower that morning.
As we all look on, alarmed at what’s happened, he reaches up and grabs the mug that’s slid onto him.
In a scene that is forever imprinted on my brain in slow-motion, Andy turns the mug around while exclaiming “who the hell left their mug on the counter top with coffee in it?” As the mug turns around, my soul slowly escapes my body as the letters become clearly visible to everyone in the room:
S E T H
Well, somehow my soul eventually re-entered my body (at least that’s the narrative I tell myself). And Andy and I got along fine (for the most part). And I’m still friends with all the FIF peeps and talk occasionally to Reese and Micah and Brad and Scott and Leanor (wonderful godly woman and friend who is speaking at a conference I’m hosting at my church this summer).
What did I learn through this experience that has grown into legend in my own mind (and in the mind of my horrified wife)?
I have absolutely no idea.
The face-value lesson of “don’t leave full coffee mugs with your name on them on counters unattended if they might slide off” seems a little impractical.
Maybe the lesson is “everybody screws up” but that’s too generic and it’s pretty obvious to everyone already, isn’t it?
So the only thing I can pull from it is, “if you’re exposed for too long to people you want to get along with, you will invariably do something, intentionally or otherwise, that at least temporarily disturbs your collective peace and you just have to mend it the best you can as quickly as you can.”
Which is a really stupid lesson, so just forget the whole thing and get on with your life.
*This Featured Image was created by storytimeunderground.org and many thanks to them for what they do and for creating the image. Check out what they’re doing.