Growing up where I grew up, living where I live, sometimes it surprises me to think about places I have come to know and love– like Nashville.
Over the years I have spent a lot of time there. Never have recorded a song, but I have given many addresses, and had many conversations. My favorite place to meet someone is the Frothy Monkey, a wonderfully hospitable place with good things to drink and eat. From breakfast to supper, their tables are full of folk, mostly locals who enter with affection and anticipation.
Ten years ago I spent most of a day there with Jena Lee Nardella, Aaron Sands, and Dwight Gibson, morning to night, wondering and working over the idea of the Blood:Water Mission. Could we? How would we? And hundreds of very hard questions that had no easy answers. But years later the organization exists, and does good work all over Africa, addressing the complex needs for clean blood and clean water. Ideas have to have legs, and words have to become flesh.
Other times I have met musicians there for breakfast or a cup of something. In their very different ways their lives on the road are both great and not-so-great, so being home for a day or two or three is its own gift. And sometimes having a conversation with someone who is more friend than fan is just what they want.
On this visit I met several people there, some by happenstance and some by plan. Just sitting at the table, people came up and said “hi,” folks I have known in other times and places. But by intention I met with two former students from the Capitol Fellows Program in Washington, DC, now living in Nashville. Both are good people with good work to do, and we talked about that and more. Knowing me as they do, they know I believe that their questions are good questions, because they matter. Life and love, worshiping and working, Nashville and the world—the stuff of life for all of us.
Vocation is a good word to capture all that and more. As I said to them, it is a big word, a complex word, because it has to address everything that is “us.” Our labor and learning, our eating and playing, our friendships and families, our life at home and in the rest of the world—the complexity of life, day in and day out. But as is always true, before we were done, there were questions about coherence, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. Can it all make sense? Does it hold together? How do I find my way into making more sense?
Because of their ages, they are navigating their way through their twenties, finding out things they like and don’t like, understanding what satisfies and stretches them and what doesn’t, and making choices about what they will do and what they will not do. That isn’t easy, because at our best we see through a glass darkly. But I was happy to hear from them both. They are making thoughtful decisions, carefully and critically discerning what these days mean and what they don’t mean. They have some time for that. Being twenty-something doesn’t last forever, but they are paying their bills, deepening their friendships, paying attention to the world, all the while learning to love what is worth loving.
In my two days in Music City—and Nashville is that in a way that no other city in the world is —I had other conversations too, mostly in response to my more public life. But in the relative quiet of the Frothy Monkey, one more time I had the gift of good conversations with good people. At the end of the day, they become conversations with consequences, which is what keeps drawing me in.