Special Music

By special request, Tyrone Mitchell, seven years old and a member of the Brookside Assembly of God in town, visited First Church last Sunday to bring them a ministry in music. Just like the pros, he took along his own hand-held microphone—one of those big ones with the round, red ball on the end. He took along his own cassette player too—a tiny unit that miraculously held a six-piece country-western band. And when he stood up in front, he put on a Norman Rockwell smile beneath his bush of dark black hair and bright happy eyes.

Once his mom punched the Panasonic, Tyrone started in on a tune that was part Waylon Jennings, part Fanny Brice. He stood on the first step of the platform with that fat microphone at his lips, using his arms and his hands like a toy Las Vegas showman.

Oh, my life was just a bundle
of confusion, pain and sin.
And I had no joy in living
until Jesus let me in.
Now he's paid for all my troubles,
cleansed my heart and set me free—
and I spend each waking hour
praising him for loving me.

Rev. Melvin Sneed sat back in his padded chair behind the pulpit, smiling. He'd asked the kid's mom if Tyrone would sing at First. He knew the boy was just exactly what his uppity liturgy committee needed to loosen them up a bit. How could they kick about such a sweet kid praising Jesus?

Harriet Bons, sitting with her arm around her daughter in the sixth row, left side, looked up at Tyrone and wondered if maybe little Stephanie could tuck away her self-consciousness and try a routine just like it. Even Stephanie's music teacher said she had a nice voice. Harriet figured that all she had to do was find Stephanie the right style dress and put a bow in her hair. They already had a tape recorder.

As usual, Percy Waltz and his family were sitting in the first row. That meant Percy was forced to sit no more than fifteen feet from Tyrone's crooning. After just four bars of background music, Percy, who teaches music at the high school and knows what melodies God approves of, recognized that Tyrone's tune wasn't on the list. Furthermore, he knew right away that Sneed himself was behind getting the wailing prodigy in—he could see it in preacher's smug smile up there behind the pulpit.

Amanda Johnson looked up from the little book her mother let her read during church and was surprised to see Tyrone up there—not because he didn't go to her church, but because just last week she'd heard him use a real naughty word when he got a blood blister from the hinge on the merry-go-round at school.

Bass Flemsma, off on the right, was appalled by the cheap grace in the lyrics. If you're not going to stand for a man preaching that kind of flabby American evangelicalism, he always told people, then why do you let people—even kids—sing it? Me-ism—me and my sweet Jesus. Part of the individualistic trash that Christians all over were eating up— hook, line, and sinker.

Sandra Fressens sat in the back bench. She'd been coming to First Church for the last month, off and on. Her husband had no use for church—he preferred to sleep in. But she'd been coming anyway. Sandra thought it was just darling the way that little boy sang up there in front. Just like TV. So cute.

Christopher Pennings had celebrated his seventeenth birthday the night before, and as a result, he couldn't keep his eyes open. He was hunched over, halfway back on the right side, his knee pinning a hymnal against the pew in front of him. He never heard a word Tyrone said. Not even the guitars jerked him out of his doze.

Henry Pennings had stopped poking his son Christopher in church more than a year ago. No sense breaking that pattern today—too much of a hassle. Besides, Henry told himself, at least Christopher's in church—that's more than you could say for a lot of his friends. When Henry saw Tyrone up there, though, he felt a little confused. He couldn't help wondering what exactly it is that happens when little boys veer into manhood. Henry never heard what Tyrone was singing—by that time he was too busy praying.

Ralph Martens thought of walking out, but he knew he would only be drawing attention to himself, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. So he stayed in church, even though his heart came up so high into his throat that he figured every single soul around him saw the tears that edged up in the corners of his eyes. It had been four years already since Timmy died, but time hadn't diminished the pain. Ralph found he could hardly look at the boy singer—Timmy had been just about Tyrone's age when he died.

Maria Epps and her husband Clarence came in late and squeezed in the back on the left. They couldn't stop worrying about the creditors. If the creditors wouldn't stay away for another week, Maria and Clarence would have to shut up the business for good come Friday. They held each other's cold hands during the song.

Belinda Collingsly didn't really hear the song either. She rolled her handkerchief in her hand because she was thinking of Ralph Martens. Ralph and his wife Laurie were friends, and Belinda knew what kind of steep pain both of them had to be in, captive as they were to an image so frightfully similar to the ghost of their own boy—the dear son who had been killed in an accident that they could have prevented. Belinda tried to think of what she could say to her friends after the service. She knew she would have to say something. Someone did.

Helen Marks slid her hand over the bench and wedged her fingers beneath Jack's thigh because she wanted him to know that she was feeling exactly what he was. After all those years of trying and praying and sometimes crying, Helen's prayers had finally been answered. Now, as she watched that darling little boy singing up there in front, she could feel the new life inside her body, and her heart was just filled with praise.

Mrs. Frank McBryde heard every word of Tyrone's song, and in her heart she sang along, even though the words and the music were not from her era. Ever since Jake had died, everything seemed peaceful. She was so close to God that his long-abiding love rose in her heart each time she opened a window to another dawn. Even though she was old now and knew that death would not tarry, Mrs. McBryde felt the Spirit like some leaven in her. So she smiled through Tyrone's whole performance— hardly noticing it was too loud.

The Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, was there too. And he looked around First Church during Tyrone's song and said to himself, "These are my people, for better or for worse. These are my beloved."

James Calvin Schaap (jschaap@dordt.edu) is a writer and professor of English at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.