My husband and I had front row seats at the Ricky Skaggs concert at The Ark concert hall in Ann Arbor, Michigan last Saturday – but it actually felt more like a pew.
Even before Skaggs and his Kentucky Thunder band began playing, the religious tone of the concert was apparent. Roadies filled a rack with guitars whose straps had a sacramental look; one was emblazoned with a large cross and two others had large red cards with “Life” on them.
Skaggs looked something like an Old Testament prophet when he took the stage, his long white hair flowing down around his shoulders. We’d seen him in concert before and he sometimes made an offhand remark or two about religion, including saying his recently deceased mother-in-law “done got promoted” and went to heaven. But this time, he was in full preacher mode.
Church-going was a theme. Between songs, he talked to the crowd about how his mother would keep him occupied in the chapel when he was little with a piece of Juicy Fruit gum, later propping him up on the pulpit where they would sign hymns together.
Skaggs brought up the fourth commandment (Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.), noting that he adhered to those words and as a result has had longevity (he’s 63) and a prosperous life.
There were plenty of secular songs that night, but also spiritual ones. “Down in the Valley to Pray” and “Will the Circle be Unbroken” gave the event – a benefit for a local soup kitchen – a revival feeling in a good way, more Billy Graham than Elmer Gantry.
Later, I read a recent business-oriented blog post of his called “Following by Faith, Not by Feelings.”
He writes: “A few years ago I was a country music artist on a secular record label. I had been sensing that the Lord was saying to me, “I want you to be where hurting people are, to be where people need to hear of My love.” And I wanted to conduct business from a Christian perspective.”
The pitfalls were clear.
“I cut my band from 15 musicians to 8,” Skaggs said. “I got rid of a tractor-trailer and a bus. We didn’t need a huge stage full of amps and drums and pianos and electric equipment to put on a show. In the beginning, the enemy was in my ear: “What kind of Christian are you to let people go? What happens if this doesn’t work out? You won’t be able to make a real living doing this. But God kept saying, ‘Trust Me.’”
He said his band is more agile now, and able to respond quickly to requests to play at hospitals, churches and even casinos, places where he feels he is needed.
I’m watching how people like Skaggs and my friends in the Detroit auto industry are making their active faith life part of the workday world.
Sometimes it’s about signs and symbols.
One friend who spent decades in the auto industry pointed out the necklace she wears. At a glance, it looks like a fancy piece of silver, but in reality, hidden in all the metal bits is a cross. I’m guessing it’s a way to initiate conversations about the divine. She also told me her new business is thriving since she let “God drive the car.”
Sacred Space, the blog of the Irish Jesuits, offers lots of advice on how to handle “the idiots and blowhards” at work and elsewhere. The answer: love them.
As part of the gig economy, I’m fascinated by what comes up in job interviews and I’ve been writing more about that topic. In one recent conversation concerning a writing project for a Detroit religious organization, the talk turned to where I am on my faith journey (especially compared to the other candidates). After struggling to explain my walk on the twisting path, I blurted out: “I’m probably the greatest sinner.”
The encouraging reply: “Oh, that makes you the most humble!”
Who would have guessed that being a great sinner – and confessing it out loud – could enhance your resume and job prospects?
I wonder what Ricky Skaggs would say about that.
Photos by Paul Lienert