Thursday, November 6, 2014


My friend Matt died.  He was helping a panicking child one moment and dead in the water the next.  It was a little over two months ago.  He was one of my very best friends.  And I don’t have many friends.

To say that Matt was a lifeline for me would be an overstatement.  But I will say he was my tin can on a string.

My conversations with Matt were usually in extremes.  They were either completely superficial, (I mean down-right silly, as in doing the dialogue from an entire Monty Python sketch) or it was deep.  There was rarely much in between, other than work-related stuff.  We would talk about hope and despair and frustration and longings and where-is-God-anyway.  And then we would come up for air and talk about birds, books, or the ministry of silly walks and gumby brain specialists.
*All italics in this post are Matt's lyrics.*

Is there reason for all we push through?

I miss both of those modes more than I can say.  I don’t have any one that I can be as silly with as I was with Matt Auten.  I don’t have any one that I can have heart-wrenching conversations with like I could with Matt Auten.  And so my life seems to have lost some of the breadth in its spectrum.  All the colours just aren’t there.

I say Matt was a tin can on a string for me because of the way his music affected me.  He was on my rotation of favourites on my hot-pink-ipod-and-I’m-OK-with-that, and so I would listen to him on the bus or train on the way to work.  I would hear him almost every day, and I would say increasingly so in this last year, maybe because I have been feeling lonely.

Did you put your trust in this broken cup?
It’s not in this vessel
It’s all in the light that fills it up

As I listened to Matt’s music, it was like I was putting that tin can up to my ear, and through the string, and through the music, Matt would put the other can on his chest, and I could hear his heart.  And that heart, like our conversations, would point me to the deeper things, and the still point in a topsy-turvy world.

I remember when Matt wrote his first song.  We were at Montreat, and he came in our room and told us “I think I just wrote my first song” and then played it.  It was short; just a chorus, I think.  It was called “A Cup of Soup on a Rainy Day.”  I asked Matt about this years later, and he had forgotten it… which is a shame, because I still think of it every time I have a cup of soup on a rainy day.

One thing I love about music (and art in general) is how the Holy Spirit uses it.  One time I was listening to Matt’s song “Dear Samuel,” and I had no idea who “Samuel” was or who he wrote it for, but at that moment, it became about me.  It was at a time when I had been trying to fill my life with stuff, especially work, and a failed relationship.  I remember sitting alone in my apartment, with his music playing…

Finally lonely, aren’t you
You tried so hard to fill your life without me
Finally broken, aren’t you
You see you weren’t made to be whole without me

And I sobbed.  That was me.  And I felt like God sat there with me on my carpet next to the CD player and put his arm around me, and let Matt’s lyrics do his whispering…

Now is the time to climb where I teach you
One move at a time, stay where I can reach you

Believe me my child, there is nothing to choose
You have nothing at all… but your whole self to lose

It wasn’t until later that he told me he wrote it for Mark Twain.  But God had other plans for it that night.  I’m sure there are many others who have experienced something similar.

There's no warmth in truth without something solid to burn

Matt actually did write one song about me.  When he first told me, it was in an apologetic sort of way, because it was a song about being passed over in the areas of love… ok, it was a song about being dumped, over and over again.  Here I had hoped that if I ever inspired a song, it would be about passion for life, or chasing dreams…  No, not me, this song was about striking out repeatedly in the girlfriend department.  Now, as a happily married man of ten years, I can look back on those lyrics and smile and breathe a sigh of relief that none of those relationships worked out, but at the time, I could only appreciate the song as a song, and sigh.

The last line in the chorus says, “I pray that I'll have the will to be, nestled in Jesus’ sovereignty.

I guess after all these years, the situation has changed, but that is still my prayer.  As I wrestle with the story of his drowning or whatever happened, as my heart breaks for Amy, and for Graham, and for Ben, as my tears scream out for understanding (just where were the f***ing angels anyway?)  

You say do without hope, 
take a chance on a fall, 
go in deeper and be made whole

Now the string is cut.
But I can still hold that tin can up to my ear
And his music echoes
Like crashing waves in a sea shell
Calling me
Still, after all these years
Praying that I'll have the will to be
Nestled in Jesus’ sovereignty.

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