Thursday, February 21, 2008

What is Red Mountain?

I go to a church called red mountain. It seems like a strange thing – that I go to church. Even stranger that I work there and do church music, and that I actually love it. I am often surprised that I love this church. I look at my friends, often out of desperation, and one of us usually says, “yeah, but where else do we go?”

In the past year, people that I am close to and care about have lost children, found children, found love, gotten divorced, experienced more loss than any of us saw coming, lost their jobs, lost their homes, not been able to pay their bills, fallen out of friendships, badly hurt eachother, and cared for eachother in ways that continually surprise and encourage me.

We talk a lot about what red mountain is. I don’t think any of us know. Is it a church for a diverse community? What does that look like? Are we a church for the poor? Did we used to be? Are we a bunch of white people who happen to live close to the city and pretend to care about urban issues? What does urban mean? Is it that there are no poor among us, or is it that poverty looks different than we thought it would? Maybe that’s a cop out to turn more inward? What do we do with the Bible? What do we do with the skeptics? What do we do with people who don’t doubt, with people who have it all figured out? Where do we go from here?

I know it’s a big surprise that BTM is not offering any answers, only questions. I know it is shocking that BTM is continuing on in his own crisis of faith and life, each day a bit more confused than the one before it. Maybe change is coming. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe we’ll all die and be really surprised at the ending.

A lot has happened in the past year. a lot. And for some reason, over the past couple weeks I’ve had more time than usual to be still and think and listen and write, and I keep going back to this little church, I keep getting drawn in, and it always surprises me.

People ask why so much of the music at red mountain is so dark, so depressing. I never really know how to answer that, except to say that the music of our church is very much the music of our people, and I’m quick to point out that it’s not all dark and depressing, just that a lot of it is. And if you think what I let you hear is dark, you should come hear the songs that I play at night, when nobody is listening except for my sleeping wife. Cal likes to say to me - "you can't help the songs that come out of you", and clint and I always talk about songs being in the air, and you just have to be there at the right time to find them and hear them. why is the music the way it is? I don't know. I think it just is. music is nothing more than the song we're already singing.

There are several things that give me hope. That give me hope for red mountain, for people, for friendships and relationships, and hope that maybe all this stuff about the gospel might actually be true.

Maybe I’ll get into what these things are, but for now I’ll only mention one of them (because brevity is the key to any successfully web log entry, and I've already gone too long).

I was recently privy to a conversation where someone was talking about their darkness, their pain, the sorrow that they are carrying all by themself. And a woman from red mountain, Jennifer Pickering (Jennifer if you want me to delete your name from this blog, let me know and I will) responded:

“Want to come sit on my couch and drink tea and hold a new baby and cry?”

And I thought, “yes.”

Maybe that’s what red mountain is. Maybe it’s a place where people can finally stop rushing out of their sorrow. I think that’s a big deal.


JP said...

You are welcome anytime. And John has some good Irish whiskey if you don't like tea.

Benj said...

Holding a baby and crying. Sounds beautiful.

Carla Jean said...

Brian, you almost made me cry at work.

I could say more than that but then I might ACTUALLY start crying.

kristen said...

Jennifer has a very comfortable couch. It's very cry and tea worthy.

BTM, I think you've captured the heart of Red Mountain as well as anyone can.

Elisa M said...

yes. this post gave me hope, something that I sorely need right now. Thanks

Charlotte said...

I'm crying. And I'm trying to be hopeful. Please know you aren't the only one who questions all of this. At this very moment I'm wondering if packing it up and moving to Hoover/North Shelby County/whatever is such a bad idea. It's hard to be in this place, in this church. But it is my place and my neighbors and those with whom I worship are my family. And somehow God is going to have to figure out how my kids are going to be educated and how I'm supposed to care for the poor and be in the lives of people at RMC while I can barely care for myself, my children, and my poor husband who gets the leftovers. Somehow I think Jesus is the answer. (And I know that sounds like some bad song. It may very well be.) I'm trying to belive He is involved in all of this. I don't know what it looks like, but I have to believe it to get through each day.

I didn't mean for this to be so long.

Brian T. Murphy said...

JP - thanks. I think john may have actually stolen some of that whiskey from me.

benj - doesn't it?

CJ - you can't cry at the magazine. it's not allowed. and speaking of magazines, I just sold one of my photos to a magazine in LA.

kristen - you think? gosh I hope I'm close. who knows. thanks.

elisa - thanks for writing what you write.

charlotte - nothing you write sounds like a bad song. you can write as much as you want. maybe we need to drink some wine with our spouses soon?

Jeff and Brandi Koonce said...

RMC has been a place where i felt i could be wandering and melancholy. but i have also found it a place that really can make me happy and believe in things i wanted so much to run away from.
it has helped me be a stronger woman, and a better friend. but in a place that is more nurturing to me when i don't succeed in these things.
its helped me to see both sides of church. the really good, and the really ugly. and love it all. and not want to run.
through the years of toil and struggle and pain, Red Mountain has been the place where i found hope and happiness.
so i think sometimes happy songs are good in our little church. sometimes we need to gladden our little hearts with the words of Christ. :)

CK said...

"a place where people can finally stop rushing out of their sorrow."

I REALLY like how you put that. I don't know if we're there yet (I'm getting kind of suspicious about all of this rampant hope that's spreading like wildfire through our little church, and all of the sudden people have stopped talking about the dreadful storm we just barely survived, but maybe that's just my sinful cynicism talking), ... and I don't think anyone really knows what it looks like, but I think we may be on our way there, by the grace of God.

Sorry for the run-on sentence. I probably should just write a blog post myself.

TillmanTillmanTillman said...


Thanks for posting this. You really struck a chord. Maybe we are learning a little better to live with the tension that surrounds sorrow and suffering: we shouldn't rush out if it, but we shouldn't let ourselves be held captive by it, either. When all of this stuff first started hitting (in public ways, anyway), it was like getting punched in the stomach. You don't really "respond" to that--you just crumple to the ground in pain, gasping for breath. And you just want the pain to stop and to start breathing again. But after you keep getting hit, you start to realize that you are in an ongoing fight for your life, and you better start fighting back, whatever that looks like. And amazingly, you realize that Jesus really is fighting for you, even when you feel like you're losing. So you don't ever resolve the tension, you just push back against it and refuse to succumb. It's so hard sometimes to know why we do the things we do, and where the sin is and where the grace is. I'm rambling.

brett said...

there's something beautiful about a group of people that seeks real-ness with each other. in all my years of growing up in the pca i never really understood that. i'm just starting to catch glimpses of it now. it's good and it scares me.

CK said...

tillman(x3) - i love how you put that. beautiful.

Clint Wells said...

man, this is a great post. and great responses too. i know that, for me, red mountain has always been an umbrella. and even when it isnt a very functional umbrella and the rain seeps through the cracks and holes, the IDEA of the umbrella is enough to keep me waiting under it enduring the rain cloud with you people.

i used to think that the Christian life was a progression towards the absence of sorrow with the occasional valley and dark season. I'm starting to realize that for me, and a hell of a lot of my friends who are trying to follow Jesus, that the Christian life is ridden with sorrow with the occasional and fleeting moments of true joy, rest and hopeful tranquility.

most of those moments seem to float around my faith and my marriage and my relationships in chords and melodies and tempos and meters and guitars and pianos. musical moments.

and for every time we can sing "help my unbelief" together with john newton we can also sing or at least hum and cry the tune of "amazing grace"

whilst holding a newborn baby.

or a full grown man (me).

kristen said...

My best friend, in the darkest time of her life, told me that she finally understood that when Jesus said that he came that we would have life, and life abundantly, he didn't mean just eternal life or good life. He meant life magnified in every way: greater joys, higher hopes but also deeper sorrows and the sharpest pains. That was almost eight years ago, and I still think of it often, things like these comments remind me continually of its truth.

curt chadwick said...


Wonderful post, RMM is my drug of choice for the cares of this world.

Thank you for making it happen.

ELT said...

"I keep going back to this little church, I keep getting drawn in...."

Me, too, BTM. Despite myself.

Brian T. Murphy said...

Brandi – I like what you said about seeing both sides of the church, and not running. Maybe part of the hope is that people continue to not run? And I’m with you on happiness being okay, too.

CK – I’m not familiar with this rampant hope you speak of. It makes me smile though to remember how out of touch with red mountain I actually am. Probably all of us actually are.

Tillman – “And amazingly, you realize that Jesus really is fighting for you, even when you feel like you're losing.” What a beautiful idea. I miss lunch.

Brett – yeah it’s terrifying most of the time, I think.

Clint – I like umbrellas, rain clouds, music, musical moments, john newton, babies, and grown men. thanks man.

Kristen – thanks. Yeah, life, magnified. That’s a really intense thought.

Curt – RMM is your drug of choice? Wow. I guess that’s a pretty safe drug, for the most part.

ELT – yup.

Terry said...

"clint and I always talk about songs being in the air, and you just have to be there at the right time to find them and hear them."

Reminds me of a quote I heard recently by Brahms. Something like, "...Straight-away, the ideas fall upon me, directly from Heaven."

Emily said...

I experienced love and joy while at RMC. And I experienced lots of pain, pain that lingers. I didn't feel free to linger. The church is unique in many ways. I miss the music terribly.
I will always be thankful for the friendships that were made at RMC.
To answer your question(on just one of many levels):
What is Red Mountian?
It's a PCA church that pretends not to be when it can get away with it.

mary said...

B, Your read mountain section was beautiful and makes me miss my little brother. I wish you would feel like coming out here and holding a child on the rez and crying with me one day. I hope the next few weeks are quiet for you as the last few were. These reflections seem to me like the Holy Spirit whispering to you.

Susannah said...

Thank you for providing an opportunity for thought.

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