Last week I had the privilege of seeing the critically acclaimed jazz singer-songwriter Gregory Porter performing in concert. Listening to his easy-on-the-ear creamy baritone was a moment to treasure.
Gregory Porter was raised in California, and taught to sing gospel by his inspiring single-parent minister-missionary mother. In 2017, he won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album with the album “Take me to the Alley”. The title track has always has resonated with something within me and hearing these lyrics live last week was a moving and spiritual experience. He sings:
Well they guild their homes
In preparation of the king
And they line the sidewalks
With every kind of shiny thing
They will be surprised
When they hear me say
Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted one
Take me to the lonely ones that somehow lost their way
Let them hear me say
I am their friend
Come to my table
Rest here in my garden
You will have a pardon.
I believe that this is God’s heart revealed. What response does reflecting on those lyrics evoke within you?
For me it reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Luke 14. In the story a man prepares a banquet and invites the great and the good. When the food is on the table his esteemed guests feign excuses and bail on the invitation. The man was outraged so he told his servant “quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and the homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here” (MSG).
When Gregory Porter was asked about this song in a recent interview, instead of talking about Jesus, he shared instead about his mum. He said the message of the song wasn’t just the gospel she was preaching, it was the gospel she was living, highlighting that lip service that prioritises the poor is easy, but it is not enough.
I sometimes catch myself aspiring for “neater”, “richer” or “shinier”, but in doing so I risk becoming so caught up in my own world that I am too busy, distracted or complacent and I miss the opportunity to be with God.
And I don’t want to fall into the trap of presuming that the Kingdom of Heaven will manifest itself on earth in the ways and places that I expect. The Good News of Jesus is breaking into the alleyways and dark places, reaching the afflicted and lonely, in just the same way that Jesus did.
Where do you spend most of your time? Are you in the alleys?
I want to be wherever I can hear Jesus say, “I am your friend”, “come to my table”, “rest here in my arms”, “you will have a pardon”.