Although I was just a babe in arms when they were going strong, The Second Chapter of Acts is a musical group I have grown to appreciate. In fact, I think I probably like them better now than I would have if I had been old enough to listen to their music when it was first performed and produced. Rarely do I enjoy anything that is “all the rage” while it is “all the rage”. I need a few years to sort through popular things–whether it be music, clothing styles, philosophical approach–to decide what I think about them. When everybody’s talking about it, doing it, listening to it or raving about it, it is hard for me to pull back enough to see or hear the real thing for myself. I need time and quietness to pull away from everybody else’s opinion, and that is hard to do until the hoopla has settled (ha! How’s that for a well thought out explanation/defense for being “out of it” and “behind the times”, for NOT being “cutting edge”!)
Regardless of what I would have thought of them in the early years of the Jesus Movement in the U.S., I like their music a lot now. When I listen to music and am deeply touched by it, I want to learn more about the artists, to know them a bit better (however remotely and one-sided, meaning it won’t happen in relationship where they also get to know me) and to connect to and understand their heart.
It was a delight then, to read Matthew Ward’s autobiography, My 2nd Chapter. This memoir is personal and funny. And it doesn’t feel fake or stilted. It’s so natural that I can imagine literary critics judging it to be not well written (it sounds like someone talking or writing in their journal). As I read, I felt like who I was getting to know was Matthew Ward, not a profound author who was “touching up” the story of Matthew Ward’s life.
I did not come away from the story thinking or feeling, “Wow, what a great person that Matthew Ward is.” I came away feeling like I knew him better and had a glimpse of what his relationship with the Lord looks like. The story gave me a background and a context for the music I’ve come to enjoy. I like to connect the dots and this book helped do that for me. You know how you can idealize people you admire? And then, in contrast, how you have people in your life who you really look up to and appreciate, but who you know more completely–the good, the bad, the amazing, the annoying? There is something very good about liking and appreciating people without only seeing the things that are easy to like. And when I finished this book, I couldn’t idealize Matthew Ward, but I really had come to like him.
In a remote, admittedly detached way (you can’t REALLY connect to a person through a book), this book let me see Matthew Ward a bit more holistically. I was deeply moved as I saw how he lives out his relationship with God. I laughed at his sense of humor. And sometimes I squirmed uncomfortably at how far his sense of humor went. I cringed as I read about some things that would grate on me if we knew each other personally. I smiled at how amazingly God brought the gift of music to Matthew, Annie and Nellie at an extremely difficult time in their lives. And then I smiled bigger as I read how God let that gift overflow as a blessing to many others.
I am always encouraged to hear stories of how God faithfully perfects and changes people uniquely, so that they look more and more like Him, even if they look less and less like any kind of status quo around them. I cheered as I understood how Matthew Ward experiences God in ways that are similar to how I do, but very different from the ways many people I know experience God. It was also nice to listen to someone’s theology, which in areas is different from mine, in the context of a story. Reading theology where the point is not to share a point, but just talking about how that theology is lived out in another believer’s life, I’m better able to listen without becoming defensive or struggling to articulate in words how I understand it differently.
And while I came away from the story glad that I had gotten to see glimpses of Matthew Ward and his family, which helped to fill out my appreciation of their music, mostly I came away marveling at how God works. Not in the sense that I understood more about how God works. But more like a deep amazement that I feel each time I hear someone’s story and see how faithfully and creatively God works. It’s not that I’m surprised that God works, just that I experience a delightful surprise each time I get to see His hand at work in another believer’s life in such personal ways.
So, I love stories, because they connect me to people and they cause me to marvel at God with us, at work in us. Even though this book was not one of the more literarily amazing books I’ve read recently, it was one of the more enjoyable ones, because it was a real story of a real person really being transformed and used by God in real ways.