Last night, my wife took me to see the “Screaming Eagle of Soul”, “The Black Ambassador of Love”, the one and only Charles Bradley in concert at Thalia Hall. Bradley is a 67-year-old R&B singer, who sings like the embodiment of James Brown and Otis Redding. And, even though he was only discovered 5 years ago (while doing James Brown tribute shows), he has since recorded three masterful albums and now tours the world doing sold out shows. With many apologies to my former top 5: Shawn Mullins, U2, Paul Simon, The Police, and Gaelic Storm – last night was the best live show I have ever seen!
One of the many things I love about Bradley is that, when he sings, he does so with his heart fully engaged and a reckless abandon of raw emotion. He was loving us, and we were loving him.
Charles Bradley is also a deeply religious man. In the middle of one of his sets, he brought the band down, and said, “You know, everyone has their cross to bear.”
As a theologically trained pastor, I eagerly anticipated hearing about “his cross”. Most often, when I hear someone use that phrase, what follows is some woeful tale of the hardship of having to bear a burden that everyone would agree is difficult.
“My cross, is to sing for all of you, and bring you joy. And sometimes that cross feels like this…” I sat stunned as Bradley threw the mic stand over his shoulder and plodded and struggled across the stage under its weight. He elaborated, but by then I was lost in thought and empathy.
When Jesus says in Mark 8:31,“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me,” he is laying out in the strongest visual language, the high cost of discipleship. As William Lane says, “Jesus stipulated that those who wish to follow him must be prepared to shift the center of gravity in their lives from a concern for self to a reckless abandon to the will of God.” Christ does not necessarily require you to sacrifice your physical life in order to follow him. He does, however, ask you to sacrifice your “self”.
Regardless of any theological clarifications and corrections that might be made to Bradley’s illustration, to do so would minimize their intent. He sees his work as a service to God.
I had never considered that someone as talented as Bradley, who is bringing me and many others great joy, and appears to be thriving on the mutual love fest that often happens at a live show, could actually be sacrificing in order to do so. At 67 years old, traveling on across the country in a tour bus, playing late night shows must certainly take its toll. But night after night, Bradley is out there. Even the encores don’t negate the fact that, at times, he is exhausted or sick or just having a bad day.
As I contemplated Bradley’s words and visual illustration, I came to appreciate three things;
First, I am thankful for those who, in using their God given talents in their work to bring me joy, do so in such a selfless manner that I do not recognize that they are ‘bearing a cross’.
Second, I am reminded that as a follower of Christ, I too am called to “shift the center of gravity in my life from a concern for self to a reckless abandon to the will of God.” That call includes how I do my job.
Third, I am thankful that Jesus of Nazareth, spent day after day laboring in announcing and enacting the good news of the kingdom (often to large crowds who did not understand or see his burden); and seeing the joy set before him, did so all the way to the cross.
- Pastor Michael