As a young teen I was deeply insecure. While everyone around me seemed to know what to do and who to be, I was lost and afraid. I had so many questions. I didn’t know if I belonged. I felt alone.
Then I heard a song on the radio, from a band called Supertramp, that gave voice to my existential cry, “Please tell me who I am!”
After hearing Logical Song and then buying the album, I realized that there was someone out there who understood, who knew my struggles and was there with me.
Hide in your Shell was probably the most influential Supertramp song for me. As lead singer Roger Hodgson sang about “playing joker,” he named what I had become: a kid who had to be funny all the time, quick with the one-liners, always trying to “grab on to what I could scramble for.”
And then, as the song continued, beautiful words of invitation came: “If I can help you, if I can help you, if I can help you, just let me know. . . . ” I didn’t realize it then, but it was as though God was reaching out to me.
“Well, let me show you the nearest signpost
to get your heart back and on the road.
If I can help you, if I can help you,
if I can help you, just let me know.”
I didn’t make the connection until four years ago. Which led me to write a sermon entitled, How God Used Supertramp (Roger Hodgson) to Save my Life. It was the most personal message I’d ever preached.
I quoted Psalm 19:7 (MSG), “The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road,” and I talked about how all people belong to God. I spoke of how Hodgson’s cries gave voice to my deepest prayers, “I wanna know you. . . . I wanna feel you. I wanna touch you. Please let me near you.”
And when the sermon reached its crescendo, Supertramp’s words sounded like they could have come from the mouth of Jesus: “Why don’t you listen / you can trust me / there’s a place I know the way to / a place there is no need to . . . feel that you are alone.” The connections seemed so perfect.
‘This next song . . . ’
A few weeks after preaching that message, Calgary CBC reporter Russell Bowers brought it to Hodgson’s attention during an interview. Bowers then took this photo of Roger holding an iPad with a screen grab from the sermon of me preaching about his music.
And then, a few weeks later, I got an email from Hodgson’s manager letting me know how much Roger appreciated listening to the message. She said that Roger’s spirituality was one of the reasons Supertramp broke up. She also offered me an invitation to come to Roger’s next Calgary concert.
So this past November, there we were – my wife and I in great seats, listening to Roger Hodgson live! And then something astonishing happened.
As Hodgson was introducing a song, explaining how people often thank him for the healing that his music brings to their lives, he said, “This next song is for a wonderful man, Pastor John Van Sloten. . . .”
I was floored! Did a world famous musician just notice me? He went on to sing Hide in your Shell, and I just sat there overwhelmed: singing along, tears pouring down my face, overjoyed at a God who would bring this all together!
Post-show, we decided to take advantage of the backstage passes we were given and get a photo with Roger. After waiting in the fan photo line-up, we introduced ourselves and Roger gave us this huge smile. He asked if we could stay and talk after he was done with the photos. Then his handlers ushered us to his dressing room.
While we waited, his manager again thanked me for the sermon. The concert had started 20 minutes late that night and the reason, she said, was that Roger was re-watching that message!
Two kinds of inspiration
When Hodgson arrived he thanked me again for the sermon. “I’m not much into preachers, but you’ve got it right . . . keep spreading the love.” After gushing like a teenager for a few minutes, I told him about what it felt like while he played Hide in Your Shell. “When I was a kid I didn’t know that God was saving me through your words. When I preached that sermon four years ago I named that fact for the first time. And as you played it tonight (once the shock faded) it felt as though I heard God’s voice in behind your voice, in real time!”
The whole time we were in his dressing room Roger embodied such a humble, loving and thankful demeanour. “I’m the one who’s been blessed,” he said. “I don’t even really write those songs. . . . I just receive them when they show up.” We talked about how important “getting out of the way” is when it comes to divine inspiration.
My wife and I couldn’t believe what was happening. It felt as though God was putting his imprimatur on our ministry and our calling to listen for his truth everywhere; affirming again, in a dramatic fashion, his everywhere presence in our lives. I told Roger that I’m now inspired to preach for the next 15 years!
And I am.
Now, three months later, I still shake my head. Did that really happen? What a beautiful story God has spoken: “The parable of Roger Hodgson’s otherworldly impact on an unknown (yet fully known) Canadian kid (cum preacher).”