In Cod They Trust?
— Monday, April 14th, 2008 —
You may never have seen Adam Dorsey, but chances are you’ve heard him. Adam was a country music songwriter with a successful career in the industry. He penned the words to the song, “That’s What I Love about Sundays,” a chart-topping song recorded by Craig Morgan. Adam left his musical career behind him when he followed a call to ministry here in the School of Theology at Southern Seminary.
Or so he thought.
Adam and I had a lot to talk about, given my lifelong love for country music. He once sheepishly approached me after class to say that he had attended a Country Music Association awards show in Nashville, and that his primary goal was to get an personalized autograph for his Dean from one of the artists whose music I love: Charley Pride, maybe, or George Jones, or Loretta Lynn.
Adam was embarrassed to say that the only musician he could get close enough to was a newcomer to the world of Hank and Willie. Adam handed me the autograph, which reads, “To Dr. Moore, Livin’ on a Prayer, Jon Bon Jovi.” I was shot through the heart. And Adam demonstrated that maybe his days of influence on Music Row were coming to an end.
Since then, though, Adam’s found a new kind of influence. Not long ago Adam and his family moved to Newfoundland in Canada to plant a new Baptist congregation there. This economically-distressed part of the city where he works could not seem more distant from the sequins and lights of the Grand Ole Opry.
Adam writes in an email this week about his arrival in this land of fishermen. He notes that the area in which he ministers has been rocked by the downturn of the fishing industry. He said that posters up along now-empty docks read, sadly, “In Cod We Trusted.” Adam writes that his first thought upon seeing this sign was sad incredulity: “They were trusting in a fish?”
Adam soon came to see though just how desperate the plight of this city is. And he realized as he met with a ragtag group of “Newfies” upstairs from a grocery store where they assemble for a Bible study just how similar this group of disciples and seekers are to those who first followed Jesus.
Adam had been asking for prayer for a single mother named Donna who had been attending the Bible study. She loved to hear the song “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” sung by the little gathering. In a recent Bible study, Donna was stumped by the exposition of John 3. “How can you be born again?” she asked.
For three hours, members of the Bible study shared the gospel with this woman. She said that she had been in a pattern of “being good” and then “slipping up” and then repeating the process. One of the Bible study members said, “Sounds like you have faith…in yourself.” When this woman replied that that was accurate, the Bible study participant asked, “So what do you want, Donna?” She said she wanted Christ, and she met Him there.
“A cod-fearer was now a God-fearer,” Adam wrote.
You know, Adam probably has former colleagues in the industry who probably wonder why he threw away an opportunity to make it to the top. His career as a songwriter is probably over. If I ever get to meet Charley Pride, it probably won’t be because Adam has any strings to pull in Nashville.
But what Adam’s friends on Music Row might miss is the glory that Adam sees in a room that probably smells of fish guts. He sees the faces of men and women so impoverished the powers-that-be of this age will never take notice of them. Some of Adam’s old friends probably wonder why would one give up the possibility of global fame and private jets, for this? Like the fishermen of Newfoundland, and like all of us apart from Christ, they are trusting in stuff as impermanent as fish.
That’s the perennial temptation, and not just for twenty-first century economically-triumphant commercial superstars or economically-pressed commercial fishermen.
When Jesus finds his disciples they are busy with feeding themselves, many of them through the seafood industry. Jesus obviously sees this as honorable and good, but calls them to recognize that man does not live by bread, or fish, alone. After the crucifixion, Jesus finds his followers right back in the boats, resuming their economic lives as though nothing had happened (John 21). He affirms the goodness of their labor by sharing in the eating of the catch (John 21:9-13), but he calls them to see also the less readily visible food they have been called to deliver (John 21:15-17).
The disrupting factor in the lives of Adam’s old audience, and his new audience is the same. Lyrics and recordings and products and reputations will not survive a hundred years or so of human history. Success, whether on the New Jmusic charts or at the widget factory or on the harbors or in denominational headquarters, cannot compete with the brevity of life and the shortness of human memory.
Our temptation is always either to ignore our temporal labors in sinful presumptiveness (2 Thess 3:10) or to trust those labors to feed us apart from our dependence on God (6:11). In either instance, we turn to another father for our fish, and find a Serpent on our hands instead (Matt 7:10; Gen 3:1-6).
That’s where this thing really gets glorious. The fishermen Adam leads to Christ will soon rule Newfoundland, and all the old-found-lands, from a New Jerusalem. And, if they pay attention, they’ll see on the foundation stones of that city the names of some fishermen, just like them. They’ll remember that these fishers heard the same Galilean voice they heard, mediated as it was through Adam’s Tennessee accent.
I couldn’t help but mist up with tears when I read Adam’s email, especially when he wrote with obvious joy about seeing Donna, now among the redeemed, in worship the next Lord’s Day. “I can’t wait to see her face the next time we sing ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ again,” he wrote. “Man, I cannot wait.”
I guess, now, that’s what he loves about Sundays.