I’m not ashamed to say it: I love Nat Stine. He’s the worship and music minister at Chapel Hill Bible Church, and I love him. Not in any romantic kind of way… And not in a creepy, stalky way, although maybe he’d beg to differ! I just like what he does on Sunday mornings – his laid-back demeanor, his arrangements, the songs he chooses…
Oh the songs … it’s a vast array. On any given Sunday we might hear any of the following kinds of music: hymns, rock, contemporary Christian, gospel, secular, bluegrass, choral, classical, international. I probably left some out, but that’s how diverse it is – I can’t name it all! He says there’s no wibbly-wobbly, spirity-wirity method to choosing what to sing … but that just makes it seem all the more divinely inspired, because he knocks it out of the park every time. (My choice of a sports analogy will make sense to you in time.)
Anyway … if you visit the Bible Church, you could hear diverse music performed by a choir, or a band – or maybe a local musician or band like Thad Cockrell or Roman Candle. Whether it’s a traditional choral mix, folky and acoustic, or rockin’, the arrangements are always right on – good harmonies, good instrumental blends. And best of all for me, it NEVER sounds nerdy.
Because … I’m just going to come out and say it – contemporary Christian can sound flat-out nerdy – to my ears, anyway. I appreciate the sentiments, the theology and all ... some of the songs are actually wonderful. But the arrangements just shut me down. I’m not sure why ... wimpy drumming? Overproduction? That it seems to be a pale imitation of the music I love and not the real thing?
And I’m not trying to sound cool or anything – I mean, I’m inviting you to church – how cool could I actually be? But I do get a much better buzz off other kinds of music. I’ve been known to do the praise hands thing at a Bruce Springsteen concert or driving down the road listening to Big Star. Which is why it’s awesome that Nat occasionally throws in some secular stuff. This is what the Golden Age Spaniards called “a lo divino” – that is, giving a sacred reading to a secular work. And it’s the lens through which I see the world.
But this isn’t about me. No, it’s about big church full of all different kinds of people who have all different backgrounds and tastes. And it’s about Nat, who, along with his rotation of talented musicians, pulls off the giant feat of helping this crazy diverse group give props to their Lord and give a sacred reading to their world – not once, but twice – every Sunday. I’m sure it’s not an easy job – there’s even special software designed to help worship leaders like him line up all the musicians and songs and stuff for each week’s services.
He was telling me this the other day when we were chatting. Yeah, ’causeI shamelessly used this column as an excuse to meet him. That’s right. And I found him as charming off stage as on. He told me about growing up outside of Boston in a big Christian family, about attending Gordon College as a voice major, how he came to Chapel Hill at the suggestion of a friend, about his come-to-Jesus moments and about how he views art and the world and faith … which is pretty much … a lo divino. That is, giving a sacred reading to everything around. He also told me that his “love language” is “words of affirmation,” so if you see him give him some.
He enthusiastically praised the folks he works with, oozed love for the musicians who make the joyful noise each week, and just seemed so full of life and love and joy. And if titles and honors impress you, well, he’s played Carnegie Hall and was the musical director a reading of an off-Broadway musical involving Jane (“Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman”) Seymour! Of course he was totally humble about this stuff, insisting that getting to do these things is all about who you know.
If you friend Nat on Facebook, you can follow his passion for music – and you’ll find that he’s equally fond of sports, rooting for all teams Boston. The life story he shared with me showed an ongoing vacillation between these two passions, with music winning out because … it impressed girls. And this girl is certainly impressed! But, again, it’s not really about me. Heck, it’s not really even Nat. It’s about all of us… and the God he does such a great job pointing us to.
You an reach Julie Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org