When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a rock star. When I became a Christian in eighth grade, I was eager to see how my love for music would fit in with my decision to follow Jesus. (I gradually learned that "star" is not a pursuit befitting Christians.) People in my church wanted me to use my musical gifts too, so I started learning and leading people in contemporary praise-and-worship songs like "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" and "Shout to the Lord." As I went to more Christian music festivals, visited different churches, and learned more songs, I garnered a library of hymns and praise-and-worship music.
Meanwhile, sometimes I would hear gospel music on the radio or television, and it struck me as a curiosity—the kind of music to which black people worshiped but that remained mostly irrelevant to me.
When I was a sophomore in college, the theme for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship regional retreat was racial reconciliation. A few weeks before it began, our campus staff worker told me that they had initially planned on inviting singer-songwriter Derek Webb to speak and give a concert but had changed their minds.
"No way!" I said. "Why?"
She said that when an African American staff member heard the idea, she threw up her hands in frustration—most African American students had never heard of Webb. So the planners decided to re-focus the conference theme on racial reconciliation.
The speakers at the conference pointed us to the picture in Revelation 7:9-10, where a great multitude that no one could count, "from every nation, tribe, people and language," stands before the throne and worships the Lamb. They said that if this is ...