I was sitting in my living room when I got a message from my friend Jim.
“Are you around?”, he asked.
“Yeah, are you okay?”
“Well, my friend Rick told me his friend Brian had passed away today, and I thought it might be your friend with the same name.”
“Lemme get back to you”, I said, dialing Bryan Owings, my friend of many years and miles.
The relief of hearing Bryan’s voice was dampened with news that we’d lost a good friend, another Brian.
So as not to confuse Bryan Owings and Brian Harrison, friends shuffled a few letters in Mr Harrison’s name and dubbed him “Brain”. The nickname stuck.
Brain was beloved in the music scene in Nashville, being a stellar bassist and guitarist, and a great recording engineer and producer. Brain’s entire house was a recording studio, complete with a 24 track tape machine in his bedroom, guitar amps in his kitchen, a recording console in his living room, keyboards in his dining room, and drums in his garage. A wry Mississippian with a dark sense of humor, he named his studio “The Rendering Plant”. I had recorded there quite a bit and loved working in what felt like Brain’s playground, surrounded by paintings of Muddy Waters and Son House, guitars, and vintage microphones.
Brain was likeable, irreverent, and witty; he possessed a slashing sense of humor and a most gracious gift of hospitality. He had a particular lack of affection for former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom he believed (with many others) to be a war criminal. It was as if every reason for despair was embodied in the person of Dick Cheney.
“On the day Dick Cheney dies, don’t call me, just show up. I’ll be throwing the greatest bash Nashville’s ever seen.”
Now Brain was gone.
Bryan told me that Brain’s computer had been open to a Google search for the phrase “tingling arms”.
I could hear the aching in his trembling voice. He choked up.
“Philly, will you say a prayer?”
“Yeah, right now.”
In my short prayer, I said that I was sure Brain was in Heaven at that moment complaining that Dick Cheney had outlasted him.
A discussion ensued about Brain, the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, unless you were Dick Cheney. Brain’s great capacity for congeniality and generosity offset his often caustic sense of humor.
I listened as Bryan talked about what a great person Brain was, and how he just wanted to know that Brain was alright in death. Those of us who believe in Jesus and an afterlife probably understand this uncertainty when someone who doesn’t care about God passes on. After all, Brain had little use for religion, while he was respectful of his friends who were trying to connect with God.
I believe faith matters in this life. I am glad I believe in Jesus, glad to have a sense of the Spirit’s presence in my life. Of course, that Presence often makes Itself known via good people that cross my path, Bryan Owings, for one. Brain, for another. It would be ironic that an Atheist can exhibit behavior that reminds me of God’s goodness, except I believe the Creator’s DNA is running through the heart and soul of every creature.
The Story of Redemption is strong medicine. Jesus died for all sinners, we’re told. We are also told that God is Love.
Some of us believe in an afterlife, while others are content that this is all you get.
Most of us probably don’t probably put much thought into these ideas. except when someone we love dies.
Some believe that the behavior of a saint lands you in Heaven, while anything less keeps you out. I don’t believe that.
I cling to the idea that God is just like any good mother or father calling to beloved children “Come home”.
My faith causes me to believe that Brain is in God’s presence because God is good.
I cling to this kind of mercy, the all-loving kind- the kind I need to display more of, and the kind I see repeated in the Story of Redemption.
The mercy I cling to does not co-exist with judgment; it is illogical, and possibly maddeningly unfair. To wit, I believe this: I believe the day is going to come when all of Brain’s friends are going to show up at his old house and party in style, meaning a certain former Vice President will have passed away. By the time that day comes, Brain will have been so steeped in the love and mercy of Jesus that he’ll probably be the first to welcome an undeserving Dick Cheney through Heaven’s Pearly Gates.
I can use that kind of news.