The photograph slips out from inside the front cover of the book. It glides, twists, and somersaults a few times before it lands on the floor. I reach down to pick it up.
It’s been years since I’ve seen it. Now that the world has turned digital, you don’t see photographs like this much anymore. Its edges are curling. I wipe away the thin film of dust on the surface with my shirt sleeve and flatten out the photo.
I smile. It’s a picture of Kent Brinkley. He’s sitting at one of those electric organs from the 1960’s and wearing his favorite stocking cap—blue with red and white stripes and a pompom ball on the end. I met Kent when I was serving my first congregation right out of seminary.
Kent was in his early fifties but had the cognitive abilities of a first grader. He was barely five-feet tall, exuberant with life. Big, fulsome cheeks and bright eyes behind those thick-rimmed glasses. The only thing more delightful than Kent’s grin was his infectious laugh.
I remember taking this photograph. My mind goes back to the day I snapped it with my camera.
Kent and I were having coffee together. Actually, I was having coffee and he was having his usual diet Coke with a straw. After a while, Kent suddenly leans in and says to me in his nasally, high-pitched voice: “Pastor Brian, I have a surprise for you!” He’s so excited I think he’s going to jump out of his skin. “I wrote a song for you!”
“You wrote a song for me, Kent?” I reply. “I didn’t even know that you were a musician!”
“Yep, I am.” he says. “I wrote a song for you. On my organ. You see….” Kent pushes his glasses back up the ridge of his nose and he gets a pensive look on his face as he tries to explain the mystery of his inspiration. “The love of Jesus goes in my heart, and the notes just come out. Yep, just like that! The love of Jesus goes in, the notes come out.”
He pauses. Then raises his eyebrows and grins: “Do you want to hear it?”
“Do I want to hear it?” I say. “Of course I want to hear it!”
We finish our drinks and walk over to the waver home nearby where Kent lives. I can barely keep up with him. He leads me to a small room with a little brown electric organ—the one in the photograph. Its keys are stained yellow, its four legs so wobbly it seems at any minute it might topple over. Kent flips the “On” switch. Then he pulls up the rickety little bench and positions himself.
He looks at me. “I wrote this for you.” And he repeats what he told me earlier. “The love of Jesus goes in, and the song comes out.” He places his stubby index finger on the lowest key of the organ, closes his eyes, breathes in a deep breath, and starts playing.
Key by key. One note after another, he moves his index finger up the keyboard. Deliberate. Unrushed. All the way until he reaches the last and highest key. And then he goes all the way back down.
That was it. That was the song. The love of Jesus went into his heart, and this song came out. I close my eyes and listen to Kent play for me. When he finishes, I notice my cheeks are damp.
“Did you like it?” Kent turns and faces me, beaming from ear to ear.
“Oh, Kent,” I whisper. “I loved it. It is the most beautiful song I have ever heard.”
Kent claps his hands and lets out a squeal: “Oh good! I hoped you would like it. It wrote it for you, Pastor Brian. The love of Jesus goes in, and the notes come out.”
I hold the photograph in my hand and memory does its work. Oh, Kent. Precious child of God. My brother, my friend, my teacher. About a year after the photo was taken, Kent went to be with the Lord as a result of kidney failure. It’s sentimental, even cliché I know, but I can’t help but picture him in the presence of Jesus now, on his little electronic organ, that grin on his face, the love of Jesus going into his heart and the notes coming out.
Kent is among the beautiful saints in my life who have taught me to receive. Receiving a gift is not easy for me; I’d much rather play the role of giver. It’s probably a control thing. Receiving is so vulnerable. And yet it’s in that place of vulnerability, of both receiving and giving, that we encounter God and discover one another in love. Kent Brinkley was my teacher in this.
The love of Jesus goes in, and the notes of God’s shalom come out. A song of beauty, hope, new creation.