Welcome to the "Roadhouse Hymnals"

I just love how the phrase “Roadhouse Hymnal” lands in my ear. For me it immediately feels like two things under tension, dissonant, yet somehow inexplicably right for each other. They somehow fit together. The two words taken independently conjure up images in complete contrast from one another. My mind conjures up a Roadhouse as a dirty, dilapidated building hanging on structurally by a thread, but alive and vibrant at its core pulsing with the beat of a simple rhythm seeping out of its well-worn cracks and crevices. It’s where people go to escape the harsh reality of a broken world and dampen the pain of trying to survive it through the soothing salve of cigarettes, alcohol and blues, country or rock and roll music. It’s a place where sinners hang out, sinners just like me. 

When my mind imagines a hymnal, I am transported to an entirely different environment where it’s clean and sterile. I imagine a building of great reverence and prominence, inviting…but somehow off-putting because despite being welcome, I don’t feel qualified to be there. A building meant for people who are good, clean, free of sin…people most definitely NOT like me. I know in my heart this is not true of the church, but for many it is the unfortunate perception. Not unlike the roadhouse described above, I imagine sounds erupting from the interior of this building calling out in a beautiful, otherworldly sound of love and harmony projected at something greater than myself or anything this world has to offer. 

Roadhouse…Hymnal. My mind wants to convince me the two words don’t belong together because the two worlds they represent don’t belong together either. My heart however disagrees. I think they have more in common than it appears on the surface, so I’ve set out to prove it with my latest project, The Roadhouse Hymnals. I want to bring the love of God into the hearts and minds of everyday hard-working, mistake making, broken, hurting, overworked, struggling to believe, loss of faith, doubting, gambling, drinking, cussing sinners. People just like me. And I want to do it through the power of music and the love of God. If it sounds interesting, read on.

Music figures prominently in the Bible. Music accompanied the Exodus out of slavery in Egypt to the triumphant return to the Promised Land. Music is referenced over and over again as a primary means of praise and worship for every human condition experienced in the course of a lifetime. Music and the people who made it have always played prominently in the life of believers. I’m led to believe that means music matters to God too. The third longest book in the Bible is the Book of Psalms. It’s a book of, well, mostly music. Psalm is a Greek word derived from “psallein” meaning to pull or pluck a stringed instrument. From that word we get the noun “Psalm” meaning a sacred song. 

Psalms are essentially prayers meant to be sung often in harmony with others or to the accompaniment of instruments. They are not just prayers of reverence and love for God, but also cries and pleas for relief, deliverance, and understanding. They cover every imaginable thought, feeling, emotion, and egregious act we as humans can commit or are a victim to in this lifetime. They are prayers of both celebration, despair, and repentance for the exact same things we experience today. That sounds a lot like the music I grew up with. So, with that in mind (and some urging from above if I’m being honest), I set out to highlight how the music I grew up on correlates to the many messages of love, faith, and hope found in the Bible. Here’s how I hope to do it…

What I want to do: Roadhouse Hymnals is a concept. It’s a concept about reaching people who might not otherwise be inclined to look for God where we are often led to believe He hangs out, places like church or the Bible. But those aren’t the only places we can find God. We can find Him right where we are at, right in the middle of our mess. He’s in the Roadhouse with you! He’s urging you to seek Him and He’s not afraid to use a killer guitar solo, sultry refrain, or soaring chorus hook to do it. Listen to the words of many of your favorite songs and I can almost bet the underlying thought, feeling, and emotion that led to the writing of that song is addressed somewhere in the Bible. And not just the feel good, praise God, seek the light stuff, but the messy doubting, helpless, lost, anger, jealousy, raging stuff we live with every day. It’s all in there. And I hope to encourage folks to seek God in helping make sense of it all with music as the vehicle to get them there. 

How I want to do it: My short-term goal is to make some quality sounding videos of me singing and playing some well-known classic rock songs, but stripped back acoustically to allow the listener to really focus on the lyrics. I will preface each song with a brief explanation of what led me to choose that song and a short reference to where the Bible discusses the same thoughts and ideas. I will post these videos on social media where there will be links to a short devotional I wrote covering the topic in a bit more detail. These devotionals will be 5-7 minute reads. They are simply open invitations to consider and contemplate how God also views our circumstances and extends an invitation to learn more about Him and how He can comfort, celebrate, ease the burden or simply be the beacon of hope for whatever drew you to the lyrics of your favorite song. 

I have a couple dozen songs teed up now…songs from Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Bad Company, Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, and many more. It’s worth noting that none of these songs’ authors refer or allude to any religious meaning behind their songs. They are simply songs that capture the same feeling or emotion the Bible and God’s word provides some insight for. I’d love to write a devotional book that captures these ideas as well, but copyright makes that a long-term endeavor. Playing a cover song pointing to my own written work is a vehicle that allows me to get around stringent copyright laws. And besides, I love to play and sing!

Where I see it long term: That’s anyone’s guess. I would like to see the online presence and interest grow to the point of upgrading my recording studio to provide even greater recording capability. I’d like to see interest grow and eventually make alternate versions that are Roadhouse Hymnals for country, blues, Motown, singer-songwriter, etc., etc., to appeal to a larger audience. I’d like to take the show on the road and have a Roadhouse Hymnals roadshow that takes me to churches, shelters, prisons, food lines and wherever else God sees value in sharing what I’m doing. I shared this idea with my producer, and he suggested a future studio effort turning some of these songs into something professionally recorded. He also introduced the idea of starting a Podcast where I could invite musicians on the show to hear how their Faith has played a part in their musical journey. Maybe it becomes a non-profit endeavor and goes global. I’m allowing myself to dream big but giving it to God to do with as He deems fit. I am one step into something that may be a lifelong journey, but it feels like a good cause. Only God knows what is in store for this project, but it has me excited and eager to get started. I hope you’ll follow along for the ride!