A friend of mine provided the inspiration for this blog with a song she wrote when she worked in a performing arts ministry called Beacon Street, based in Cleveland, OH.
I’ve asked her to describe the particular inspiration for the song:
The song flowed out of a trip to New Orleans that we took in 1998, when the city was seeing much better days, although of course not everyone saw better days back then. Still, it was a magic weekend for someone engaged in the crafts of song writing and storytelling and ministry. Every encounter seemed to me to ring with the voice of God. Or maybe it was just Bourbon Street talking.
We had flown in that evening from Ohio, and decided to take the trolley into the French Quarter so we could walk around and get the flavor of the city. I had been to New Orleans once before, on my class trip when I was a senior at St. Vincent- St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. New Orleans is a Catholic city after all, where one might even avoid sin on occasion. I was glad to be an adult this time around.
As we strolled through the French Quarter it soon became clear that everyone who was anyone was doing something for a dollar. I gave a buck to the human statue lady. I gave a buck to the trumpeter and the washboard player and the juggler. A gave a buck to some little kids who were tap dancing at 10 pm. Then I came upon a man who was sitting on the sidewalk, just holding out his hand, murmuring a request for my spare change. Him, I walked by. The first time at least.
That’s where the song begins, and it tells the rest of the story pretty much as it happened.”
Here are a few facts not in the song: the panhandler’s name was Ben. His eyes were an unnatural blue. The rest of the weekend I felt like I had run into Jesus. Somewhere in there it occurred to me that Ben and I were both working for change: whether it was a change of opportunity, or of life or of the world. And that change was only going to come occasionally, in small shiny handfuls that hopefully would add up after awhile. That’s when the song was born.
I had other equally dizzying moments that weekend, though they never quite made it into a song. I remember sitting in a cozy little bar, engulfed in a spicy mist of Cajun music while a man in the back waved in the tourists hovering in the doorway, drawling, “Hey, do you like what you see? Come on in! Come on in and sit down! If you like what you see, come on in!”
And I remember going to Mass the next day at St. Louis Cathedral, where it seemed like a mile of marble fell between the huge doorway where the tourists hovered and the podium where the song leaders performed. There weren’t many people sitting in between. And I wondered if in this city of saints and sinners the bars didn’t have a better sense of ministry. Because it seemed to me that the cathedral could have used a gentle barker waving the tourists in and calling “Hey, do you like what you see? If you like what you see, come on in. Come on in and sit down.”
For a church like that I’d empty my pockets.” — Barb Ballenger
The song is the title track of a CD you can order directly from Beacon Street.