It wasn’t that I fudged my GPA or falsely claimed to be president of my high school’s honor society. Rather, I spun a detailed story for my entrance essay that had zero basis in the truth. The prompt for the essay was this: “If you could spend one day with one person, living or dead (except for Jesus Christ), who would it be and why?” I knew deep in my heart the honest answer to that question, but there was no way I was going to actually write it. I was sure that Prestigious Christian College wanted a very particular answer to this question. So, I declared my adoration for a sturdy, long-established Christian heavy-hitter: Katharina von Bora, the wife of Martin Luther. (I wasn’t Catholic yet.)
I ended up getting into Prestigious Christian College and spent four wonderful years of undergraduate study there. But when I thought about my application, the nagging feeling that I hadn’t been truthful never left.
The person I really wanted to meet? A 5’3” secular Jew from New York who couldn’t have been more different from saintly Katharina von Bora, but happened to mean the world to me: Paul Simon.
I grew up steeped in a heady brew of Simon & Garfunkel. Mornings spent savoring each record spin of “The Sounds of Silence” when I was little turned into pensive teenage afternoons meditating on the beauty of earlier works like “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” In high school, when I ventured to play some S&G songs for friends and they didn’t laugh in my face, I knew I had found “my people.” And once, when I sat in a movie theater waiting for the show to begin and Simon’s solo “American Tune” happened to come on, I had to turn away from my seatmates, moved to tears.
But at 17, I was convinced that Prestigious Christian College wanted to hear none of this. Good Christian college applicants, as everyone knows, draw inspiration from the sacrifices and strife of saints, not the lyrics and melodies of 70s soft rock icons. And so I wrote a gloriously cheesy tribute to a person I cared nothing about — complete with flowery imagery like “As we walked the cobblestone streets of Wittenberg …” Cringe.
I wish now that I had told the truth. Crafting my college entrance essay around a lie was a foolish and irresponsible ploy to gain admission. I also wish I could have been confident that my truth would have gotten me into my Christian college just as assuredly as did the lie. Because I know now that God can and does use spiritually unglamorous people to speak blessing and inspiration in our lives. In fact, God can use anyone at all. I have heard God’s voice in the words of modern poetry, received wisdom from unbelieving friends. (And let’s not forget the Old Testament story of Balaam, where God went so far as to use a donkey to get His point across.) The individual doesn’t have to be perfect for their art, their voice, their passion to penetrate our souls with truth … perhaps, even, to draw us nearer to the Author of Truth.
In the years since I graduated, as I’ve had time to reflect, I’ve come to realize that the truth about who I really wished I could meet — unpolished as it may have been — said more about me and the honest brand of my faith than any made-up devotion to a holy person. My love for a secular musician was (and is) a hallmark of my way of being in the world but not of it. God’s expansive grace leaves no room to fear authenticity. God created me to be me.
And if God uses hippie-era folk music to feed my soul, well, He works in mysterious ways.