Recently, ML3 played at a fundraiser dinner/auction for the local Twin Lakes Food Bank. The Food Bank quietly serves about 1,800 adults and children every month in Folsom, Orangevale, and the surrounding areas. We were excited to volunteer for this event, where we shared a jazz/vocal set during the silent auction, and a set of our original tunes during dinner prior to the live auction. This is the stuff we like to pull out when no one expects us to be anything: Norah Jones, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Steely Dan. Stuff we not only like to play, but like to listen to as well.
The running gag for the evening was provided by Matt Sawhill (basses), who kept wanting to play “Roxanne” by the Police. Now, before you get too confused, we do a moody, piano-driven version of this eighties anthem that was inspired by Sting himself. (I once saw him sing “Roxanne” accompanied only by jazz piano, and it was one of the hippest things I’d ever heard.) So we incorporated it into our song list, and pull it out on appropriate occasions. The trick is figuring out when appropriate is. So between every song (and knowing how inappropriate it would be), Matt would yell out, “Roxanne!” to Steve Liberti (drums) and me.
The first time we played it, it was at the Bayside Café, a coffee venue located on campus at Bayside Church in the Sacramento area. It is a relatively small venue, with less than a dozen people in the café. We were being politely applauded throughout the set when we played the song. But the silence after “Roxanne” was deafening. Crickets. Crickets and the uncomfortable sound of throats clearing.
The very next evening, we played at Jericho Coffee Café, another coffee venue in Sacramento. Same song, same small venue, same number of people in the audience. But this time, it was extremely well received. Lesson learned: You gotta know your audience.
There’s a reason why we decided to add “Roxanne” to our set list. We talked about how it can be an allegory for the woman caught in adultery, found in the book of John, chapter 8. In this episode of Jesus’ life, the religious leaders try to trap him by bringing him a woman whose offense is punishable by stoning. Jesus sees not only through the guise of the pharisees, he sees into the heart of this woman. Deliberately, patiently, as if to allow the fullness of that moment, Jesus bends down to the ground, and traces in the sand.
Then he stands. And honoring the law, he gently offers, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” His simple retort exposes us all for what we are—sinners in need of forgiveness.
“Roxanne” is a song that brings this to mind. It refers to a different kind of love, not one based on sex and appearance, that which is bound by conditions, but one based on grace and forgiveness. In essence, it is a song about unconditional love.
Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light
Those days are over
You don’t have to sell your body to the night
Roxanne, you don’t have to wear that dress tonight
Walk the streets for money
You don’t care if it’s wrong or right
I loved you since I knew you, wouldn’t talk down to you
I have to tell you how I feel, I wouldn’t want to share you
I know my mind is made up, so put away your makeup
Told you once, won’t tell you again, it’s a bad way
Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light…
Instead of condemnation, Jesus responds with an act of extravagant forgiveness. In this act, he saves the woman from being stoned to death, frees her from the burden of condemnation, helps her see herself beyond her own self-made prison. And then, in his final response, he offers an invitation: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” It is a beautiful portrait of the personal, active, grace-filled God, who meets us where we are and invites us to live a better life—a life of grace.
Postscript: Driving home afterwards, I was reminded of how blessed I am, to be able to play with Steve and Matt. Not only are they accomplished musicians and its always a fun hang, but they have good hearts too. When I heard about the opportunity to support the Food Bank, I didn’t have to pitch the idea to them. They knew it was for a good cause, and neither of them hesitated. In this last year, we’ve played for a correctional facility (Sierra Conservation Center), a fundraiser for a youth-centered non-profit organization (Playmakers), and a fundraiser for a missions organization (Proclaim! International), in addition to the Food Bank. It is a unique situation, to have a band that is on the same page, personally, musically, and spiritually. And in the spirit of the season, I am very thankful for it.