Listening to live music can be a spiritual experience. The stars aligned on Aug. 5, when I got to hear my favorite musician for the last 20 years, John Mayer, in concert. My sweetie, Justin, was by my side. It was the evening of our second wedding anniversary, and we headed up to the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul after work for the show.

After we waded through security and climbed up, up, up the many stairs, we found our spots high atop the venue’s nosebleed section in seats 18 and 19. It’s hard to describe my level of happiness as the band came out on the stage. Sure they were basically standing miles away with their drums and guitars and microphones, but we were all in the same physical space, and that felt special.

Whenever I am at maximum bliss, I say to Justin, "10 out of 10." That night was 10 out of 10.

Changing your mind?

As Mayer played songs from throughout his complete repertoire of albums, I was struck by how the lyrics of many are as poignant in 2019 as the days when they were originally written.

In 2006, Mayer recorded a song called “Belief.” He played it at the recent show in Saint Paul. While it was a very familiar song to me, the significance of the lyrics took on new meaning that night as I reflected on our current national climate. Sometimes we encounter God in the Bible. Other times it’s in worship. That night I encountered the mysteries of God residing inside the lyrics of a song I heard while listening alongside 18,000 of my closest friends.

The song “Belief” is about the complicated nature of conviction. The first line of the tune is, “Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign?” It’s a provocative question and one worth pondering. Mayer is acknowledging the existence of politically-charged yard signs and billboards and bumper stickers. Perhaps they all serve important purposes — or maybe they don’t.

Rather than advocating for or arguing against such “paint on a sign,” I think Mayer is inviting his listeners to first pause and reflect. Do people change their minds about significant issues based solely on what they read on yard signs? Is that really how belief works?

A portion of the chorus is, “Oh everyone believes in how they think it ought to be. Oh everyone believes, and they're not going easily.” As I heard the words of the song during the show in Saint Paul, I was reminded of a recent series of conversations I had with a dear friend with whom I have strong differences of opinion on a variety of political and religious topics. We both have strong convictions. We also have a decades-long friendship that supersedes our differences. We're learning to "agree to disagree" when necessary without compromising our convictions.

The nature of belief

As Mayer says in the song, beliefs don’t change easily. Much psychological research over the last 50 years reveals this as true. So rather than be perpetually bothered by this reality, wouldn’t it be healthier to recognize it? Maybe before we set about seeking to change the perspectives of other people so they think like we think, we should instead first take a moment to acknowledge that the nature of belief, itself, is complex.

As Justin and I drove back to Rochester after the concert, we reflected on our favorite songs of the evening. “Belief” was the top of my list.

I’m grateful that encounters with the divine aren’t limited by the confines of place or space or holy book. They happen in many environments including concert venues. May the winds of the Spirit keep blowing everywhere and all the time.

Holy Everything is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at emilyannecarson.com.

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