Friday, June 19, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to biology class...

This post isn't primarily focused on music, but, trust me, it is definitely in the context of "influences."

I was practicing and hanging out with the band I mentioned last time while I was at Gadsden State Junior College. I was rebelling against God. God had pretty much messed up the first serious romance of my young life. I won't relay the story here, but the succession of events makes it clear. (Some of you may doubt that now without hearing the story. You need to look into that tendency; it's philosophically dishonest.) I was raised to be a good boy, but I rebelled and tried to break the rules and be a bad boy. I drank some but only once got outrageously drunk, so smashed that I spent four or five hours unconcious in my back yard, where my friends (not the band-mates) had let me off. I tried to come in very nonchalantly and make for my room thinking it was around midnight. Mom and Dad were waiting up. Busted. Grounded. But the other stuff--sex and drugs--never happened. Not because I didn't try. I can't tell the stories here, but I can tell you enough to say that, especially with sex, the opportunity was there more than once and each time there would be an interruption: a policeman with a flashlight, that kind of thing. Every time I would get mad and say to myself, "Damn! My parents are praying for me again." It was the only explanation. It was beyond coincidence.

So I was mad at God. You may ask how I knew there was a God. Well, with that kind of intrusion in my life, often with advance warning, I could just as well have rationally questioned the existence of President Nixon. I might have discounted the Vietnam draft with as much intellectual integrity as most agnostics I run into these days discount the "knowability" of God.

"I don't believe in the draft. I have plans. I am the captain of my soul. I am the master of my fate."

"And the number for November 17 is 98."

"There is no draft. Nanny nanny boo boo! I'mmm not listeninggg!"

Yeah, I was mad at God, but I had a problem. Biology. It was some kind of "programmed study" class where you go to a kiosk and listen to a lesson on cassette tape while filling in a workbook. There were also a couple of labs a week that were conducted by a real live teacher. It was a pass/fail class. You do the work, you get a C. You do extra, you get an A or B. There were tests. That determined the pass/fail part. I had goofed off and not kept up with the program. Monday was test day and Jerry Winters (the drummer) and I crammed at the student center. As we were walking to the science building to take the test, I ran into Beth Lane, who went to a prayer group my sisters and some others were in. She stopped and invited me to the meeting. I didn't avoid her in the first place because she was really pretty. But an invitation to a prayer meeting? I told her I'd see if I was free, thinking to myself that I had lots of things to do that night like listen to albums, watch a rerun of Mannix, I don't know, just about anything but go to a prayer meeting. Then it hit me. Walking toward the science building I offered a bargain to God: If you'll get me through this test, I'll go to the prayer meeting. What did I have to lose? I felt safe enough, because the only things I knew about the test material was what I had crammed in the 15 minutes Jerry and I had in the student center.

The test was like this: First you had to pass an oral portion where all students sat in a group and were randomly asked questions. You had to get two out of three right to qualify for the written test. Mrs. Bowen, the instructor, asked me the two things I DID know from cramming. I didn't even have to take a third question. Lucky, I thought. Then the written portion. Twenty multiple-choice questions as I recall. I sat there in the tiered lecture room staring stupidly at the questions. I did peek at a girl's test I could see and swiped a couple of answers. Turns out she failed the test. I hurriedly circled the As, Bs, Cs, Ds randomly and walked to the front of the room where Mrs. Bowen was grading the papers on the spot. She put her answer key next to my paper and ran down from top to bottom. Then she said, "Excellent, Mr. Finlayson. Perfect score!"

The door was right behind her and I walked out into the hall, and, as I remember it, leaned against the wall because my knees were weak. One thing was sure: I was going to prayer meeting on Monday.

The meeting was at somebody's house in North Gadsden. The meeting moved around. There were eight or ten people there; half of them I didn't know. It's hard to describe what happened. I felt love there. Not that I could distinguish the love of God. I couldn't. But as these people would earnestly pray for each other, I sensed a profound love that was clearly not human in origin. It was a love for each other, but not the kind I was used to. By contrast, my best friend (as I found out later) had hit on every girl I had ever dated (not that many). I found myself almost involuntarily confessing sin. It felt safe and I felt loved and accepted. This group was to be my spiritual umbilical cord for the next two or three years. I went home that night, kneeled by my bed, and asked God to forgive me for being so rebellious among other things. I didn't have a particularly emotional experience, but I felt a profound sense of relief, and, over time, I noticed a gradually changing perspective on my life, the people around me, and my place in the universe.

This had an effect on my music. Was it still OK to play the blues? Or even electric guitar for that matter? What about those "secular" songs? Did I need to play some kind of religious music? Did I have to get a haircut? Answers to these and more...


  1. Thanks for letting us into your past.
    I have heard bits and pieces of your story but to sit down and read it like a serial is pretty way cool. I appreciate your influence in my life and what you have taught me not only music wise but life wise.
    Michael b